What: UEFA Champions League – Group E
Who: Chelsea vs Juventus
When: Wednesday 19th September, 2012, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Stamford Bridge, London, England
Chelsea Set Out On Title Defence
Roberto Di Matteo’s side will embark on their first Champions League campaign as holders hoping to display a different style to that which won them the competition last season. Chelsea lifted Europe’s top prize for the first time thanks to a supremely organised and deep lying defence, and impressive teamwork. And striker Didier Drogba, whose place is now taken by Fernando Torres, yet to truly convince consistently since arriving in January 2011 from Liverpool.
Chelsea have started the new season with some scintillating performances domestically, Eden Hazard central to much of their best play. He was brilliant as they won three games in a week at the start of the campaign, but since then the Blues have fizzled out a touch. A 4-1 humbling by Atletico Madrid in the European Super Cup and a 0-0 draw with a Queens Park Rangers side, who on the balance of play were their equal at the weekend, showed that there is still plenty for Di Matteo to do to turn his team into the breathtaking attacking unit that owner Roman Abramovich craves.
Abramovich, whilst delighted to have finally got his hands on the Champions League last year, wants his team to be lighting up Europe’s top competition with the kind of performances he saw Manchester United and Real Madrid put on when he first fell in love with the game. This will be Chelsea’s first real test of their ability to do just that.
Bianconeri Return to Europe’s Elite
Juventus return to the Champions League as one of the continent’s in form teams: just one defeat in their last 47 games and the Bianconeri have not lost in Serie A since the 2010/11 season. However, this European adventure will bring a completely new challenge and taking on the best Spain and England have to offer will be a very different test from battling Italy’s finest.
Chelsea away will be an interesting match for Juventus, who have made an imperious start to their title defence in Italy. But it has not been plain sailing for the Bianconeri. Coach Antonio Conte is suspended thanks to a ban imposed on him for failing to report match fixing while coach of Siena and FIFA announced last weekend that his ban is applicable worldwide, meaning he cannot take his place on the bench for this game. That is particularly galling for Juventus, who six years after the Calciopoli affair which saw them relegated to Serie B, have not been accused of any wrongdoing themselves. Yet they are still bearing the brunt of the latest scandal.
Instead it will be Massimo Carrera looking after the team’s fortunes in his absence, but at least he can call upon Leonardo Bonucci and Simone Pepe, both cleared after being suspects in the Calcioscommesse match fixing scandal which has rocked Italy.
Chelsea 2-0 Newcastle (25/08; Premier League)
Chelsea 1-4 Atletico Madrid (31/08; Super Cup)
QPR 0-0 Chelsea (15/09; Premier League)
Juventus 2-0 Parma (25/08; Serie A)
Udinese 1-4 Juventus (02/09; Serie A)
Genoa 1-3 Juventus (16/09; Serie A)
Chelsea: Marko Marin
Players to watch
Chelsea – Eden Hazard. Hazard was unable to show Europe what he was capable of last season with Lille as they crashed out of the group stages of the Champions League limply. Here he will have the perfect showcase to demonstrate his brilliant talents to the whole of the continent. Technically brilliant and with an ability to go past players with ease and subtlety, his eye for goal will be another threat that Juventus must be wary of if they want to come away from London with anything. If Chelsea are to get their campaign off to a good start, Hazard will be at the centre of things.
Juventus – Arturo Vidal: Andrea Pirlo may occupy Chelsea’s attentions most, but it is Vidal who can be the biggest danger man here. The Chilean was the best player in Europe’s top five leagues last season at recovering possession and that ability will be a threat to Chelsea’s hopes of getting Hazard and Juan Mata to influence proceedings. Vidal is also capable going forward, netting eight times last year and his combative style and eye for goal will be something Chelsea need to watch closely.
Juventus tend to play a 3-5-2 system which will pose a tactical problem for Chelsea. Their three-man central midfield of Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio is among the best in Europe. The Italian champions can influence and dominate proceedings if Chelsea are not careful and Pirlo will of course sit deep and hope to supply Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah as they rampage down either flank. With two forwards Juventus will also cause Chelsea a tactical dilemma defensively, meaning John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard will have a lot of work to do at the back in this game.
With three centre backs, Chelsea will need their full backs to get forward to support Torres, Hazard and Mata, in order to create the space required to break down Juventus’ solid backline. That will be no easy feat and if the Blues can get their full backs forward, that will render them vulnerable to the forward charges of Juventus’ own wide men, particularly given Pirlo’s usually precise deliveries. This promises to be a very awkward night for Di Matteo’s team. Chelsea 1-2 Juventus.
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