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Unwanted history beckons for holders Chelsea

AFP
ANALYST
News
684   //    05 Dec 2012, 13:34 IST

PARIS (AFP) –

The pressure is already mounting on Benitez after an inauspicious start as Chelsea manager

Chelsea supporters wave banners protesting against Chelsea’s Spanish interim manager Rafael Benitez during the English Premier League match at West Ham United on December 1. 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 on Wednesday.

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 on Wednesday.

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.

Chelsea are yet to record a victory under Rafael Benitez's tutelage and the fans are quickly losing patience

Chelsea’s Spanish interim manager Rafael Benitez holds a press conference ahead of his team’s UEFA Champions League group E match against FC Nordsjaelland. 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.

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.

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“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.

Celtic go into their final fixture against bottom side Spartak Moscow needing to earn a better result than Benfica

Celtic manager Neil Lennon holds a press conference at Celtic Park ahead of his team’s UEFA Champions League group G match against Spartak Moscow. The Scottish champions were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw with third-tier Arbroath in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup over the weekend

Celtic go into their final Group G fixture against bottom side Spartak Moscow needing to earn a better result than Benfica achieve at Barcelona, who are already assured of first place.

The Scottish champions were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw with third-tier Arbroath in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup over the weekend, but manager Neil Lennon said Saturday’s disappointment would have no bearing on the midweek outcome at Parkhead.

“Wednesday night will be a different opposition, a different team out and a different atmosphere,” said Lennon.

“We have to rise to the occasion. We have to win the game. It’s got nothing to do with (Saturday).”

Manchester United are qualified as winners of Group H, with Alex Ferguson likely to field another youthful side against CFR Cluj.

Serbian Nemanja Vidic, top, is not expected to feature against Cluj

Manchester United’s French defender Patrice Evra (R) and Serbian teammate Nemanja Vidic train ahead of the UEFA Champions League match against Cluj. United are qualified as winners of Group H, with Alex Ferguson likely to field another youthful side against CFR Cluj.

Serbia defender Nemanja Vidic, 31, was due to return after three months out with a serious knee injury against the Romanian champions.

But Ferguson told a news conference on Tuesday that the player needed more time before playing again.

An 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.

Bayern Munich and Valencia are both qualified from Group F, and the former can seal top spot if they beat Europa League-bound BATE Borisov, but Valencia could pip Bayern if they collect more points at Lille.

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