Chelsea Need To Step It Up
All in all, the usual dramas apart, Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea has gone pretty well, Yes, there has been the odd Premier League set-back and of course the customary touch-line ban for the boss, but the Blues lie second in the table and the team looks as though it’s starting to really get its act together.
But the one blot on the the landscape was the home defeat to Basel in the opening round of the Champions League, a reverse which immediately put them on the back foot in a Group most expected them to dominate.
It was not a fatal wound and with Chelsea recovering well to win in Steaua Bucharest on Matchday Two, Coral still have them favourites at 4/6 to win Group E and 14/1 to win the trophy outright for a second time in three years.
But that opening result means that they now go into their double-header against Schalke 04 needing two positive results if they are not going to be in danger of failing to qualify for the knock-out stages for a second season running.
Schalke almost went all the way in the 2011 Champions League (they were knocked out in the semi-finals by Manchester United), but they are not as strong as they were.
A stoppage-time winner enabled them to snatch victory at bottom club Eintrach Braunschweig on Saturday, but that still leaves them in fifth spot in the Bundesliga and several points off the leaders.
They have been leaking goals at an alarming rate – 19 in their opening nine games, including four at home against Bayern Munich last month – while Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s continued absence through injury (he’s now not expected back until the New Year) has also severely compromised their threat going forward.
So this, on paper, should not be mission impossible for Chelsea or anything like it. But we should remember that the top German sides in general looked a cut above their Premiership counterparts last season and while it is maybe too soon to talk of a lasting shift in the balance of power, they have at the very least earned serious respect.
Samuel Eto’o (13/2 to score first or last with Coral, 15/8 at any time) opened his account for Chelsea in their 4-1 win against Cardiff at the weekend and though he will never be the brilliant striker he was, he did look lively and dangerous.
To be fair, so has the much-criticised Fernando Torres when he has played this season and whoever Mourinho decides to go with up front (Demba Bar is another option), the Schalke defence will have their work cut out keeping Chelsea at bay.
A draw (23/10) would probably be enough to keep Chelsea on track to qualify, but a victory (7/5) would make things much more comfortable for the boys in blue and I expect them to really go for it, perhaps winning 2-0 (12/1) or 3-0 (25/1).