Stamford Bridge, London
Wednesday, 16th August 1945 GMT
Chelsea FC take on Israeli minnows Maccabi Tel-Aviv in their opening Group G encounter on Wednesday evening at Stamford Bridge, hoping to get their season back on track after a nightmare start to their Premier League title defence
Chelsea FC looked anything but champions in their opening five Premier League fixtures, losing three times and conceding a whopping 12 goals in what has been their worst start to the season in the Premier League era.
The return of the UEFA Champions League, might provide some respite to Blues’ manager Jos Mourinho and his charges, who will be looking to kick off their campaign on a different note from the previous two seasons.
Chelsea FC have failed to win their opening group stage game since 2011-2012 — the season in which they famously won the competition — with the openers in the previous two seasons under Mourinho being a defeat and a draw against FC Basel and Schalke 04 respectively.
With the Blues low on confidence, Maccabi Tel-Aviv have a golden opportunity to pile the pressure on Mourinho and Chelsea FC when the two sides meet at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday in their Group G encounter.
Team news and Tactics
Jos Mourinho has confirmed that Brazil international Oscar and new signing Abdul Baba Rahman will be included in the match-day squad, while Colombian Radamel Falcao will miss the game due to a minor tendon injury that caused him to miss the Blues’ training session on Tuesday.
Thibaut Courtois remains a long-term absentee, while there was no confirmation on whether former Benfica midfielder Ramires will be ready in time for Wednesday’s match. New Chelsea FC defender Papy Djilobodji is ineligible for the competition after the club opted not to register the former Nantes defender for the Champions League group-stages.
The Blues’ boss has a difficult decision to make in terms of how he wants to approach the game. On the one hand, playing his full-strength XI and winning handsomely might give his first team the morale-boost they need to get their season back on track, while on the other, the Portuguese has to give playing time to some of the members of his squad who have seen very little time on the pitch and need to get their match sharpness up so they can contribute meaningfully to the season.
French striker LoA?c R my falls firmly in the latter category, with the 28-year-old not being given a single minute on the pitch since his 45-minute appearance against Arsenal FC in the F.A. Community Shield last month. Falcao’s injury will significantly increase his chances of playing up front in Mourinho’s usual 4-2-3-1, a formation he is unlikely to deviate from against Maccabi Tel-Aviv on Wednesday.
A returning Oscar could start in his favoured number 10 position, while the game might present Belgian Eden Hazard with the perfect opportunity to play with a greater degree of freedom and gain back the confidence that he looks bereft of at the moment. Neither Nemanja Mati nor Cesc F bregas have been at their best this season, and it is not inconceivable to see Chelsea FC academy youngster Ruben Loftus-Cheek starting in a more disciplined role in the midfield double-pivot.
Further back, former FC Augsburg left-back Abdul Baba Rahman should see his first minutes on the pitch for Chelsea FC, and could even make his first start, with Spaniard C sar Azpilicueta moving to right-back.
John Terry could well be given a rest, meaning Gary Cahill could return to the starting line-up alongside French youngster Kurt Zouma. The Blues have been defensively suspect all season, and a clean sheet against the Israeli side might just bring back a sense of confidence and calmness at the back once again.
In the fairly likely event that both Terry and Ivanovi are rested for the game, it will be interesting to see who leads the team out on Wednesday. Among the likely candidates is former Arsenal FC captain Cesc F bregas, although Englishman Gary Cahill or midfield anchor Nemanja Mati could also be options for Chelsea FC.
Possible starting line-up: Begovi ; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Zouma, Baba Rahman; Mati , Fabregas (C); Hazard, Willian, Pedro; R my
The Israeli side will be missing right-back Eliazer Dasa because of his suspension, but otherwise should have a full squad to choose from. Serbian manager SlaviA?a Jokanovi had a brief stint as a player at Stamford Bridge, but will not be the only man returning to his former club. Centre-back Tal Ben-Haim is likely to start for Maccabi Tel-Aviv and will also be returning to face a club and manager he once played for.
Unquestionably the Israeli side’s biggest threat comes from attacking midfielder and captain Eran Zahavi, who was the top scorer in the qualifying phase with seven goals from five games. The 28-year-old has 11 in 10 matches overall, and will look to take advantage of a vulnerable Chelsea FC defence on Wednesday.
Jokanovi is likely to set up his team in a defensive formation, and might choose to pack the midfield with a 4-5-1 formation. Gal Alberman could play at the base of the midfield in front of the back four, with Zahavi possibly playing as the lone man up front despite primarily being an attacking midfielder.
Maccabi’s best chance at getting something out of the game is to keep things tight early on and frustrate Mourinho’s men, who will likely get increasingly desperate as they look for only their second win of the season in all competitions. A packed midfield could present a problem for a Chelsea FC side that has looked a little leggy in the middle of the park, and Jokanovi will be driving home this point to his midfielders.
A defensive anchor in midfield like Alberman — if he were to play in that position — could also help deal with the sizeable threat of Eden Hazard, who has conspicuously tended to drift towards central areas more often this season, particularly in the absence of Brazilian midfielder Oscar.
Above all, Maccabi Tel-Aviv can play with some freedom knowing they have nothing to lose from what is likely to be their most difficult fixture in Group G. The last time the Israelis were in the Champions League, they were drawn in the same group as Bayern Munich, Juventus and Ajax, and managed to beat Ajax once, while also getting a draw against Juventus.
This time around, they have a marginally easier group, and Jokanovi will know that the games his side would realistically aim to get points from will come later in the group stage.
Possible starting line-up: Rajkovi ; Shpungin, Ben Haim, Tibi, Ben Harush; Alberman, Rikan, Igiebor, Mitrovi , Ben Haim II; Zahavi (C)
- Chelsea FC have yet to win a game at home this season — their previous two games this season being a 2-2 draw against Swansea and a 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace.
- Eden Hazard is still one goal shy of a half-century of goals for Chelsea FC since his Stamford Bridge switch in 2012.
- Tal Ben-Haim and Maccabi Tel-Aviv manager SlaviA?a Jokanovi return to Stamford Bridge having spent brief spells in south-west London.
- Maccabi Tel-Aviv will be playing in the Champions League group stage for only the second time in their history, their previous appearance coming in 2004-05.
- The two sides have never met before, with the Israeli team’s only meetings against an English side coming against Stoke City in the Europa League groups stages in 2011/12.
Player to watch out for
The Belgian has been subdued at the start of the season despite being in dazzling form in pre-season. Having failed to score in any of the five opening games in the Premier League, Eden Hazard will be looking to get off the mark against Maccabi Tel-Aviv on Wednesday night.
The 24-year-old seems short on confidence, and his manager Jos Mourinho will know that the Group G opener will be the perfect opportunity for Hazard to get his season going. The Chelsea FC attacker was in sensational form in the group stages of the competition last season, and will be looking to pick up where he left off when the Blues take on the group’s minnows at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea 2 – 0 Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Although Chelsea FC have been less than impressive this season, they should have enough quality to overcome a side that is ultimately significantly weaker than the English champions. Although a goal-fest is unlikely, a solid victory is on the cards.
Blast from the past