Sammy Ofer Stadium, Hafia Israel
Tuesday, 24th November, 2015, 20.45 CET
While it would not be safe to call Chelsea FC a “resurgent” side yet, the Blues are expected to get three points out of their travel to Israel, where they face Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Manager Jose Mourinho’s side does have a relatively easier run of fixture ahead of them, and would be looking to utilise this perfectly in order to redeem themselves from the horrendous start to the season.
This run of fixtures started off with an international break, when the players got a chance to clear their head while on national duty, followed by a Premier League home encounter against relegation strugglers Norwich City. Now that the Norwich challenge has been overcome, the Blues travel to Maccabi Tel-Aviv, in a bid to secure their qualification for the Round of 16.
Meanwhile, Maccabi on the other hand, would be looking to get the best out of their players in front of the 30,000-odd supporters, who would be looking to make the atmosphere as daunting as possible for the defending Premier League champions.
Tactical Brief and Team News
Maccabi has employed a rather ingenious model that has revolutionised football in Israel, and made them the top-dogs in the country. This system has been brought in from the continent, through Jordi Cruyff who was appointed as the new director of football for the club, three years back. Cruyff brought in his brand of professionalism and discipline into the club, which has now gone on to be one of the best in the country.
The management has made sure that Maccabi can play attractive football, as that is the philosophy that they have been chasing in the domestic league. Normally keeping long bouts of possession and putting their opponents under pressure is normally their game.
Maccabi are still a work in progress though, and they are yet to reach the levels where they can properly compete against top European clubs. Thus, coach Slavisa Jokanovic indicated in the pre-match press conference that his team would be “solid in defence and more dangerous in attack”.
However, Jokanovic would still have his work cut out on the drawing board, as he could be without the services of influential forward Tal Ben Chaim, who could be forced out of the match with a possible hamstring injury.
In spite of that though, Jokanovic would be anxiously be waiting for the report on Ben Chaim, and would be looking for any good news that would allow him to include the Israeli forward in his lineup. Adding to the coach’s woes, reserve forward Dejan Radonjic has also been ruled out of the match with an injury.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Rajkovi ; Shpungin, Garc a, Ben Haim, Rikan; Alberman, Igiebor, Peretz; Ben Chaim, Vermouth, Zahavi.
The Blues have not been having a good season by any stretch of imagination. However, they have shown some semblance of form in their last league match against Norwich City, which could indicate a comeback this season. Although it seems to late for them to defend their Premier League title (or perhaps even a top-four spot), a good showing in the Champions League is never to be ruled out.
Chelsea FC would be looking to get back into full form and confidence with a convincing win at Maccabi, but they also need to be on their guard, as it could turn out to be a rather dangerous ploy away from home.
Manager Jose Mourinho would be looking to go with more-or-less the same setup that he used against Norwich, to build up some steam for the Blues, as they enter one of the most crucial parts of the season. Right fullback Branislav Ivanovic, who made a comeback from a long injury layoff, in the last match, is expected to start. Meanwhile, Cesar Azpilicueta, who was rested in the Norwich game will replace Brazilian Kenedy in the left back position.
Mourinho’s first choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who has resumed training with the first team is still not expected to make his comeback, which means former Stoke City custodian Asmir Begovic will continue his duties under the bar.
Meanwhile, Mourinho seems to have found a newly improvised position for star man Eden Hazard — the No. 10 role, where he seemed to have excelled against Norwich, with Pedro and Willian flanking him, and Diego Costa up front.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas; Pedro, Hazard, Willian; Costa.
- Maccabi Tel-Aviv are yet to win a Champions League Group Stage match this season.
- They have in fact, lost in both the halves of each of the four matches so far.
- Jokanovic’s side has been shipping at least two goals a match in the Champions League — even in the qualifying playoffs.
- Chelsea FC have tasted defeat in just one out of their last 12 Champions League encounters.
Player to watch out for
Eden Hazard (Chelsea FC)
The Belgian star seems to have gotten back some of the form and confidence that got him the PFA Player of the Year award in 2015. He was looking happless on the wings before this, and Mourinho seems to have found a new position on the field, where he can excel. The wily Portuguese tactician put Hazard in the central attacking midfield role, just behind Diego Cost, instead of the usual left wing, and the results were there to see for everyone. The diminutive Belgian got on the ball as many times as possible, and ran at defenders, creating space for the other three in the front-four. He sould be a handful for former Chelsea FC and current Maccabi defender Tal Ben Haim & co.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv 1-2 Chelsea FC
Although the Blues won 4-0 last time round, this seems to be a much more difficult fixture this time, as Maccabi would be playing in front of their own crowd. However, Mourinho’s team does have enough quality and experience to see themselves through this match, and book their spot on the Round of 16 of the Champions League.