Chelsea need a win & a prayer
Defending champions Chelsea face the ignominy of becoming the first title-holders to fail to advance to the Champions League knockout stage as the final round of group fixtures takes place today
A comprehensive 3-0 defeat at Juventus a fortnight ago left Chelsea’s title defence hanging by a thread and the Blues’ destiny out of their hands, as a draw between Group E frontrunners Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus in Ukraine would consign Rafa Benitez’s side to the Europa League.
The pressure is already mounting on Benitez after an inauspicious start as Chelsea manager following his appointment in the wake of Roberto di Matteo’s dismissal, with the team yet to record a victory under the Spaniard’s tutelage and the fans quickly losing patience. “We have to improve on the pitch and the fans will be happy,” said Benitez following Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat at West Ham on Saturday, with the match against Denmark’s FC Nordsjaelland looming.
After starting the campaign in impressive fashion, Chelsea’s form has plummeted drastically as the west Londoners are without a win in seven Premier League outings, their worst stretch in the top-flight in 17 years. “The positive thing is that Shakhtar has a lot of good players and everybody is talking about them, so they have to show the rest of the world that they are really good players,” said Benitez, who guided Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2005.
“They might finish second and have to play against one of the top sides in Europe and it will be more difficult, so I think they will try to win,” he added, hopeful of a favour from Mircea Lucescu’s side who boast an unblemished home record in all competitions this campaign.
Meanwhile, Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio, who is suspended for the trip to Eastern Europe, insisted the Italians had no intentions of just playing to secure the point they need to progress.
“A draw is not what we’re after. It’s a risk for both teams to play for a draw. We have to go there to play our own game and try to win the match.”
Victory for Juventus would see the Italians clinch top spot. However, Shakhtar would still claim second ahead of Chelsea should both sides finish level on 10 points as the Ukrainians have a head-to-head advantage.
Fergie opts for youth
English giants Manchester United have already qualified as winners of Group H, with Alex Ferguson likely to field another youthful side against CFR Cluj.
Meanwhile, Ferguson has confirmed that Nemanja Vidic will not be involved in Manchester United’s Champions League encounter with Cluj at Old Trafford.
Ferguson confirmed that while he will make changes to his line up, Wayne Rooney will be in his starting XI.
However, United’s inexperienced line-up could play into the hands of the Romanians, who must better Galatasaray’s result at already eliminated Braga on Wednesday to usurp the Turkish outfit for a spot in the round of 16.
Meanwhile, Bayern Munich and Valencia are both qualified from Group F, and the former can easily seal top spot if they can beat Europa League-bound BATE Borisov, but Valencia could pip Bayern if they collect more points in theri encounter against Lille.