Chelsea fans can’t help but think about the Champions League with heartache. Defeated by a slippery piece of grass in the 2008 final against Manchester United. Knocked out by the latest of goals from Iniesta against Barcelona in the semi-final a year later. Crushed at the hands of our hero, Jose Mourinho, with Inter Milan in 2010. And then last season delivered yet another Mancunian dismantling.
Yes, it’s hardly a contest we look upon with fond memories. So what are we to think going into this year’s competition? Another year - another agonising disappointment? Of course not. We are football fans after all and where would we be without unconditional optimism? In the rousing words of Baddiel and Skinner in 1998: we still believe.
The revolving door fitted onto the Chelsea manager’s office has swung once again and we approach this year’s trophy under the guidance of Andre Villas-Boas. Should be easy right? He has recently won a European trophy after all… Of course even the most deluded of fans would not actually compare a competition that is shown on Channel 5 to the Champions League. So before we can get carried away with Villas-Boas’ credentials and imagining what could happen in May, there is the first fundamental hurdle, which comes against Bayer Leverkusen.
With Drogba still suffering from concussion it would not be a huge surprise if Torres rejoins the starting line up.
Like any home fixture it will be one the blues will look to take all three points from. Bayer Leverkusen are a decent German side, taking ten points from their first five games and currently sitting fourth in the Bundesliga. However, they are by no means a Bayern Munich, so Chelsea would like to avoid making hard work of this game with a little trip to Old Trafford looming on Sunday. They also bring with them ex-Chelsea man Michael Ballack - who I’m sure will get a respectful reception at the Bridge.
AVB’s decision to drop Torres for Sturridge against Sunderland paid off with the 22-year-old’s outrageous goal at the Stadium of Light. An example of some of the flair that Mr Abramovich was clearly hoping £50 million might have bought us up front. But Villas-Boas also said that with his striking force he intends to exercise some rotation, so with Drogba still suffering from concussion it would not be a huge surprise if Torres rejoins the starting line up.
We might also see the return of the inarguably better signing from January, David Luiz in defence. Good entertainment value all round from appearance through to goal scoring ability. Ramires is suspended after seeing a red card against Manchester United in the quarter-final last season, so the midfield will also see some reorganising from the weekend’s game.
For clubs like Chelsea, who qualified in the first pool, the group stages are more of a warm-up, a support act to the main event. Both Manchester teams are likely to be in the later stages of the competition and no doubt the special one will try to manufacture a special something with Real Madrid. This is without even mentioning current champions Barcelona. A lot of big names – but I still think Chelsea will be in amongst them come the quarter and semi finals. So with all the optimism I mentioned earlier, here comes the Champions League and I still believe.
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