Now that the draw has been made for the Champions’ League group stage, the competition has taken shape. Chelsea have been dealt a reasonable hand this year, as the Blues could consider themselves luckiest of all the English participants. There are very few games in the Champions’ League that would be considered easy, but Jose Mourinho’s route to round two is less difficult than some. The following is an assessment of Chelsea’s chances, and of the teams they shall face:
A German side in the European Cup is always a daunting task, but Chelsea might be relieved that they have drawn Schalke, rather than Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund. The team that finished third in last season’s Bundesliga, they have not been able to better their bronze medal squad as effectively as Chelsea have done this summer. That being said, there is still some real quality in their ranks.
The club captain, Benedikt Howedes, has established himself as an elite defender following his performances for the World Cup winning Germany this summer. Additionally, Schalke have at their disposal the attacking talents of Kevin Prince Boateng, the young and exciting Julian Draxler and the consistently prolific Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Although an easier ‘big team’ than others might have to deal with, Chelsea would be very unwise to dismiss Schalke altogether. The Bundesliga is one of the most competitive leagues in the world, and to come third is no mean feat. The Blues will be favourites, but only just.
The second biggest club in Portugal at present, Sporting will enter into their matches with Chelsea as underdogs, but they will also be dangerous. The club will still be reeling from their second place finish in the league last season, and what better way to show you have improved by a decent run in the European Cup?
The side will look a whole lot stronger if they manage to keep hold of William Carvalho for the remainder of the transfer window, but even without the young Portuguese star there is massive attacking potential in their team. An upfront partnership of Islam Slimani and Fredy Montero will prove difficult to handle, although the Sporting defence could prove simple to unpick.
The slayers of Celtic, Maribor are riding on an all-time high as they enter into this year’s tournament. The Slovenian side were able to knock-out their Scottish opponents with a narrow victory, and Chelsea must make sure that they do not meet a similar fate.
There is no doubt that Mourinho’s men will enter into both ties as overwhelming favourites, but the job still has to be done. There are no particularly stand-out players in the Maribor side, but it can be expected that they work as a tightly drilled group. The Blues could face a frustrating night when most of the play is held in the middle of the park, but they will have to deal with that, and take their chances when they inevitably come.
Chelsea will win this group, and they should do so comfortably. Given the amount of strengthening that Mourinho has done this year, the Blues enter into the Champions League as one of the favourites to win the Premier League, and as such a good bet to push for the European Cup.
On paper, Schalke should come comfortably second, but Sporting Lisbon will no doubt have much to say about that. The Portuguese giants could prove a problem for any of their three opposition sides. If Maribor make it into round 2 then it will be a massive shock, and a fairytale story. Chelsea are surely too ruthless to let that happen.