Match preview: Chelsea vs FC Nordsjaelland
Stadium: Stamford Bridge
Referee: Bas Nijhuis
Kick-off: 1:15 AM (IST), Thursday, 6th of December
On the brink of becoming the first European champions to be bundled out at the group stage of the competition, Chelsea need an early Christmas miracle to make it through to the next stage. With a 2 point advantage over Chelsea, and a superior head-to-head record in this year’s competition, all Juventus need to progress is a solitary point on their trip to Ukraine, where they face the already qualified Shakhtar Donetsk.
Chelsea, on the other hand, are definitely out of the competition if they fail to win, something they haven’t managed for the past 6 games, and will be looking for nothing short of 3 points. Their opponents for tonight, Nordsjaelland, need a miracle of their own, but in the league, where they need to cut a 9-point deficit with only 3 matches remaining. In Europe, however, they have naught but pride left to play for.
Chelsea: L L D D L
Quite surprisingly, the team which began the season so well has veered off the rails into the abyss of mediocrity, with not a single win in their last 6 matches. The domestic title race is passing them by with a 10-point deficit to the league leaders, and their predicament in European competition has been highlighted above. The fan-favorite manager has been given the sack, and replaced by a despised figure, and their star striker has failed to shine through this season, just as last season. They are yet to win a match under this new manager’s reign, and have only scored once in 3 games under him. They have just 2 wins in their past 11 games, and none in their past 7 league games.
Are more facts necessary to highlight Chelsea’s current miserable form? One thinks not. But amid all this, it is true that Rafael Benitez has cut a fairly happy figure, at least at the press conferences. The players have spoken in favour of their new manager as well, with the need to keep team spirit high greater now than ever. A return to form, then, does seem likely for the Roman army.
Nordsjaelland: D W L L W
The Danish champions virtually lost their league crown this previous weekend when Copenhagen opened up a 9 point advantage, with just 3 games left to play, and have only a mathematical hope of retaining their title. They do, however, have greater wins in their past few matches than their opponents for tonight, but that should count for little at Stamford Bridge, where a win is now long overdue for the home team. Like much of the hype surrounding this game before kick-off, one expects that Nordsjaelland’s contributions on the pitch are likely to be forgotten as well.
Nordsjaelland: Jores Okore, Lasse Petry, Joe Sise.
Fernando Torres vs Mark Gundelach
As any ardent Chelsea fan would know, the last time Chelsea won was when Fernando Torres scored. The fact that it was a fortuitous goal notwithstanding, the importance of the Spaniard to the London side is paramount, with the manager coming out in support of him already. Even when not scoring goals, Torres does a fairly decent job of drawing defenders to himself and creating space for the likes of Mata and Hazard. With Okore out with a knock, Gundelach is likely to play his first game in the Champions League and will need to show immense maturity to keep from falling into this sort of a trap.
Oscar vs Jesper Hansen
With 4 goals and an assist in this season’s competition, there is no doubt that Oscar has taken a shine to life in Europe’s elite competition. Now, with the campaign likely to meet a premature end, the Brazilian will be keen to do all he can in order to help his team achieve their part of the results needed in that direction. He will also be keen to atone for his flat performance against Juve in the last round of fixtures, and is likely to test the opposition ‘keeper, Jesper Hansen, with some efforts from range.
A win for the blues, certainly. The home team just have too much quality for the visitors, and simply need the win too desperately to not achieve it. But miraculous progress is what they’re hoping for, in spite of Benitez insisting that there is no element of miraculous-ness involved about tonight’s fixtures; something which, given Juve’s form, and Shakhtar’s qualification, is highly improbable.