Steaua Bucuresti v Chelsea
Group E – Stadionul Ghencea, Bucharest
Chelsea FC travel to Romania to take on Steaua Bucuresti knowing that nothing less than a win would be considered a success given that they are yet to face their strongest opponent in the group –FC Schalke 04. The Blues lost their first match of this season’s UEFA Champions League match to FC Basel and know that they have to get an away win to compensate for that loss. Steaua meanwhile were hammered 3-0 by Schalke and would be going for the win to maintain a realistic chance of progressing from this group.
Both these sides met in the second knockout round of last year’s Europa League with Steaua winning the home leg 1-0. The Blues ultimately prevailed 3-2 on aggregate after Fernando Torres gave a Jekyll and Hyde performance at Stamford Bridge, after scoring what ultimately proved to be the winning goal, but then missing a penalty as well.
Steaua have made an impressive start to this year’s Liga 1, the domestic league competition in Romania. They have won six out of seven matches and have drawn the other one. They trail leaders FC Astra Giurgiu on goal difference but they know that their performance in the group stages of the Champions League will determine the success of their season.
Steaua will remain without the services of Stefan Nikolic and Alexandru Chipciu but can draw strength from the fact that their two key players Federico Piovaccari and Adrian Popa are fit and firing on all cylinders.
On the other hand, Chelsea continue to blow hot and cold with Jose Mourinho still to decide on his first Xl. However, with injuries to Eden Hazard and Marco Van Ginkel and with Kevin De Bruyne being left out of the squad, the Portuguese has fewer options to choose from in the middle of the park. Mourinho has also stated that Juan Mata has played his way into the team with good performances against Swindon Town and Tottenham. It also remains to be seen whether Mourinho starts with Eto’o and Torres or just goes with the one of them.
Though Chelsea are heavy favourites for this tie, but if Steaua can get an early goal then this promises to be a really good encounter.
Prediction: Steaua Bucuresti 1-2 Chelsea
Players to watch out for: Adrian Popa (Steaua Bucuresti); Oscar (Chelsea)
FC Basel v FC Schalke 04
St. Jakob Park, Basel
The last time that Basel played a German team in the Champions League they lost 7-0. The team in question was Bayern Munich. But what should give them some confidence is the fact that they beat the Bavarians 1-0 in the home leg. They would also be buoyed by their result on Matchday 1 against group favourites Chelsea, whom they beat 2-1 in London and that too after going a goal behind.
The Swiss side are unbeaten in their last 10 in all competitions and were on a six game winning run which only ended on Saturday when they drew 2-2 with FC Sion. However, that match also yielded a potentially costly defensive injury as reported Arsenal target Fabian Schar was carried off with a knee injury. The Swiss defender is a rock in Basel’s defence and if he does not play then Schalke’s chances in the match will increase twofold.
Apart from the injury to Schar there are no other concerns for Basel who could also welcome back Arlind Ajeti as a cover for Schar. Matias Delgado & Taulant Xhaka also returned to action over the weekend and could feature at some point against the Germans.
Schalke also won on Matchday 1 despatching Steaua Bucuresti after goals from Atsuto Uchida, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Julian Draxler. The Gelsenkirchen based side however rode their luck at times and until Uchida’s opener they were disjointed and squandered possession. They would know that such profligacy will be punished by a stronger opposition like Basel.
Schalke come into this match on the back of some good away form in the Champions League. They have been beaten just once in 11 previous European away fixtures. However, their defence continues to be a concern with 16 goals being conceded in the opening 7 matches of the Bundesliga. Jens Keller, the Schalke coach also has a long injury list with Klass-Jan Huntelaar, Kyriakos Papadopoulos & Christian Fuchs all out with knee injuries.
This match could be a cagey affair with both sides looking to consolidate their position after wins in the opening round of matches. Having said that, Basel would know that they have a real chance to qualify for the next stage with a win here.
Prediction: FC Basel 2-1 FC Schalke 04
Players to watch out for: Mohamed Salah (Basel); Jefferson Farfan (Schalke)