The start Chelsea FC have made to the 2015-2016 English Premier League season sees them facing an uphill battle to retain their crown, but the UEFA Champions League presents an opportunity for a new beginning
Played 0, won 0, drawn 0 and lost 0. For Jos Mourinho and his Chelsea FC side, the Champions League Group G table currently makes for happy reading. The Blues’ shocking start to the Premier League sees them languishing at 17th place on the Premier League ladder, but the beginning of Europe’s premier cup competition presents an opportunity for a fresh start.
Realistically, with the champions being 11 points behind Manchester City and 6 points behind Manchester United and Arsenal FC, the Premier League title seems ready to move on from Stamford Bridge already. Although the Champions League is by no means a significantly easier task, it might just present Chelsea FC with their best chance for a major trophy, come the second half of the campaign.
The Blues have stuck largely with the same starting XI this season, with the major changes being forced due to injuries to the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Oscar and Ramires. The Champions League Group G meeting against Maccabi Tel-Aviv on Wednesday night, however, gives Mourinho the opportunity to play some of his less-utilised squad members.
Here are three Chelsea FC players who should be handed a start at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday:
1. LoA?c R my
Inexplicably, the French forward is yet to play a single minute for Chelsea FC this season after five Premier League games. Diego Costa has been fit enough to start each of those, but has scored just one goal, looking nothing like the lethal striker he was at the beginning of last season.
New signing Radamel Falcao has been preferred as an option off the bench, and while the Colombian has not had a huge impact, his superb headed goal against Crystal Palace seems to have cemented his position as the Blues No 2 up front.
Chelsea FC manager Jos Mourinho confessed last season to under-utilising R my, but things appear to be no different for the 28-year-old this time around. Although there is a degree of sense in introducing Falcao in games where there is a lot of play centred around the opposition box as the Blues desperately chase games, it would be a telling blow for the Frenchman if the Colombian were preferred ahead of him for Wednesday’s clash against Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
R my did start against Arsenal FC in the F.A. Community Shield at Wembley at the beginning of last month, but failed to make an impression. After a poor 45 minutes in which the striker was caught offside numerous times, he was replaced by Radamel Falcao and has not seen a single minute of action since.
The Champions League opener in midweek, however, presents Mourinho with the perfect opportunity to use a striker that has shown his quality in virtually every game he has started for the Blues in his short career at Stamford Bridge thus far. With the weekend derby against Arsenal looming large, Diego Costa is likely to be rested, and LoA?c R my should be given the opportunity to get his season up and running.
2. Abdul Baba Rahman
Although Chelsea FC fans have been pining for the Ghanaian’s inclusion in the starting line up due to the disastrous form of right-back Branislav Ivanovi , Mourinho has not yet seen fit to give him minutes on the pitch, leaving him out of the match-day squad altogether in the 3-1 defeat at Goodison Park on Saturday.
A Champions League game at home against one of the weakest sides in the competition, however, presents the ideal opportunity for the Portuguese manager to hand his new signing his first start in the blue of Chelsea FC.
Baba Rahman’s inclusion in the starting XI could see C sar Azpilicueta move to right-back, and the Stamford Bridge faithful might get their first glimpse of what is likely to be the first-choice full-back pairing for the Blues in the long term.
The former FC Augsburg defender is known for his stamina — running up and down the left flank is something he prides himself on — as well as his ability to deliver dangerous crosses from the left. Chelsea FC have been crying out for some natural width on the left, particularly with Eden Hazard appearing to drift towards central areas more frequently this season, and Baba Rahman is the man who can provide it.
Even if Ivanovi is not benched and continues at right-back, it will be a huge surprise to see Baba Rahman’s name anywhere other than the starting line-up. Although Mourinho will know better than to underestimate a team that earned its place in the Champions League by getting the better of FC Basel in the play-off, he will also know that the relatively easy group makes it possible for him to take calculated gambles with team selection.
3. Ruben Loftus-Cheek
The Chelsea FC academy youngster made his only appearance so far this season in the Blues’ 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge, coming on for Nemanja Mati in the second-half and showcasing his talents in an impressive cameo.
The return of the competition in which he made his first appearance for his boyhood club might just be a good omen for the England U-21 international. Neither Nemanja Mati nor Cesc F bregas have been at their best this season, and the team has suffered as a consequence.
With Brazilian Ramires injured and consequently a doubt for Wednesday’s Group G meeting, a start could be on the cards for Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The 19-year-old has proven in the past that he is capable of holding his own against quality midfielders at the senior level, and the game against Maccabi Tel-Aviv might be the ideal stage for him to get significant playing time and make a mark for the first team.
He is arguably the only genuine box-to-box central midfielder Chelsea FC have in the squad other than Ramires, and his unique combination of physicality and technical ability allow him to make those driving runs with the ball from deep in the midfield.
If only because of the crucial game against Arsenal FC this weekend and the consequent need to rest either (or both) Mati and F bregas, Mourinho must hand Loftus-Cheek his first start of the season on Wednesday.
The Group G encounter not only is a chance for Mourinho and his Chelsea FC side to build up some confidence ahead of a mammoth game in the Premier League, but also an opportunity to try and get out of the rut that they are seemingly stuck in at the moment.
Other players who could see time on the pitch include the likes of Bertrand Traor , Brazilian youngster Kenedy who Mourinho seems to be a fan of, as well as academy defender Ola Aina, who is capable of playing in either full-back position or even at centre-back if required.
Changes to the regular starting XI are likely, however, and a convincing victory against Maccabi Tel-Aviv might just get rid of some of the dark clouds that have parked themselves over SW6.