Blog by: Nikhil
Rise. And fall. And rise. Somewhat.
These words perfectly outline the fate of Chelsea in Europe for the past two seasons.
After the heroics of 2012, where they entered a German den and came out with a trophy, Chelsea fell face first in the next campaign as they became the first ever Champions League trophy holders to get knocked out in the group stage of the subsequent tournament.
The shame and despair was, however, cut short as they marched their way to success in the second tier European competition, Europa League.
Since then, a lot has changed for the Blues from West London.
First and foremost, Jose Mourinho is back in the Chelsea dugout and is, well, happy. At least he claims to be happy.
Secondly, Chelsea have strengthened with full pace in the recently concluded transfer window, roping in the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Andre Schurrle, Willian and more.
Blues have made sure that all the key areas that needed strengthening have, indeed, been strengthened.
So, how will this team fare in the soon-to-begin Champions League campaign?
Top of the group
Chelsea have been drawn in, what many consider, a cake-walk of a group. It is anything but.
FC Basel, Schalke 04 and Steaua Bucuresti, along with Chelsea, form the Group E of Champions League 2013/14.
Schalke 04 of Germany will be, on paper, Chelsea’s toughest opponents from the group. A trip to Veltins-Arena could well end up in disappointment for Mourinho’s men.
FC Basel of Switzerland will be looking to add to the misery of English clubs as they look to build on eliminating Manchester United from two seasons ago.
Steaua Bucuresti, though cannot match Chelsea on-paper, defeated the Blues in one of the legs of Europa League elimination rounds last season.
With that being said, Chelsea have enough quality in the side to beat each one of the aforementioned teams home and away. Chelsea’s squad depth will ensure that the players are not tired at any given moment.
It will take a huge chunk of bad luck for Chelsea to not finish at the top of this group.
Mourinho’s spat with a referee
It is Mourinho. It is Chelsea. It is the UEFA Champions League.
Read it all in one go and it seems like a disaster waiting to happen.
Jose Mourinho has been openly critical of UEFA Referees in the past and has pointed to a certain ‘conspiracy’ against him and his teams.
Referee will be under the scope of Jose Mourinho from the opening whistle, till the final whistle is blown; maybe even after that.
Even a wrong offside call can trigger a row between Mourinho and apparently, UEFA.
With all that unfolded with the UEFA Super Cup, one can easily bet on warfare between Mourinho and referees at any point in the upcoming Champions League campaign.
Mata’s optimum utilisation
Juan Mata, easily Chelsea’s best player for the past two seasons, has scarcely appeared under Mourinho.
While many claim that it is due to Mourinho’s dislike of Spanish players, the reason could lie well within Mata’s skill-set. A skill-set that boasts of everything right, except one, that being, tracking back to defend.
For all those who have seen Mata play extensively have often pointed out that the creative attacker does not fulfil his defensive duties, and is too short and lanky to actually win a header.
That is a reason for Premier League.
Champions League is a whole different ball game. Here, Mata will not need to track back as often as in the Premier League. Nor is the pace of the match as fast as Premier League.
Simply put, ideal conditions for Mata to blossom, yet again.
Exciting, swift football
This Chelsea is different. It is not the same old Chelsea of Mourinho where everyone sends a long ball out to Drogba.
It is a Chelsea which exchanges at least five to ten passes in the midfield before sending out a killer through ball to the forward.
This Chelsea is not slow; if anything, the five passes talked about are completed in a quicker span than a long ball from Mourinho’s previous stint at Stamford Bridge.
With players like Hazard, Willian, Schurrle, Mata, Oscar, Lampard and others, Chelsea are an exciting attacking unit and can unlock any defence on any given day (except Everton’s on 14th September, 2013).
However, a lot of hard work and determination is required to keep up this style of play and whether Chelsea will be able to do that over the course, and stick with it through the losses, of the competition is yet to be seen.
Every good thing must come to an end.
Chelsea will entertain, dazzle and surprise many in this year’s Champions League, they will even fill up the back pages of tabloids with controversies, but unfortunately, will not go all the way.
No matter how good Chelsea’s squad is, it is just not good enough to win the top European crown.
Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich have squads which can outlast Chelsea on any given day (as seen in the UEFA Super Cup).
Chelsea is still a work in progress. New manager, new players, new philosophy will unfortunately, garner the same old result – elimination in the latter phase of the competition.
Best bet will be a semi-final berth, while a safe bet will be quarter-final exit, if drawn against one of the top guns.
But hey, Chelsea were far from favourites two seasons ago, right?
Over to you, Champions League 2014/15.