Time to impress as Mourinho swings the axe

Posted by Mark Worrall

Jose Mourinho blamed his own team selection for the 2-0 loss at Newcastle.GettyImagesJose Mourinho blamed his own team selection for the 2-0 loss at Newcastle.

Chelsea players return to Champions League action against Schalke 04 at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night hoping to get back on track after the rug was unceremoniously pulled from beneath their feet by a spirited Newcastle United side at St James' Park on Saturday.

Having threaded a run of six straight wins together in October, including a 3-0 trouncing of Schalke in Germany, Jose Mourinho's men had been expected to beat the Magpies, but it was Alan Pardew's team that prevailed and gave everyone connected with Chelsea a severe case of the blues. Following the defeat, Mourinho had been curt and candid in his appraisal of the performance of his players, lamenting that his team sheet had contained "11 mistakes." "I'll be making a lot of changes, for sure," said the Chelsea manager irately when asked about the forthcoming Champions League Group E encounter with Schalke.

The "Special One" has never had a problem shaking things up as and when he sees fit. For the match with Newcastle he made nine changes to the side that blew Arsenal away in the League Cup several days earlier and it's not unreasonable to think he will do the same again tomorrow. Over the course of the past weekend Mourinho has gone from a position of not knowing who to leave out to not knowing who to select. And as he knows only too well, there is a marked difference between the two.

For their part, Blues supporters were left completely bemused by Saturday's reversal of fortune at St James' Park with many who travelled to Newcastle remarking that Chelsea were once more in the grip of what the denizens of Stamford Bridge refer to as "glorious unpredictability" -- a curious state of affairs redolent of days gone by when their team would regularly beat football's thoroughbreds one week and lose to its also-rans the next.

It's not too difficult to second-guess whom Mourinho will turn to for the Schalke game, the key question is to what extent he will use the fixture to prove a point to his established stars? Mark Schwarzer, Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and Ryan Bertrand all acquitted themselves well against Arsenal and will be in contention for a Champions League start -- with Cahill an almost certain pick given the erratic form of David Luiz.

Against Newcastle, Frank Lampard looked out of sorts, Juan Mata struggled to make an impression and Fernando Torres looked disinterested. John Obi Mikel and Andre Schurrle are therefore likely to earn recalls with Mourinho left to debate with himself who should lead Chelsea's line? A fortnight ago in the Veltins-Arena, the German outfit were made to look distinctly pedestrian by a rampant Blues side, with Torres their tormentor-in-chief. However, with the Spaniard having sustained a thigh injury in training on Monday, which will sideline him until the weekend at least, and Demba Ba seemingly out of favour, Mourinho's debate could be short-lived, with Samuel Eto'o likely to be his default choice up front as the Blues seek to cement their position at the top of Group E with a convincing win.

Irrespective of Mourinho's lineup it's hard to see Jens Keller's men making any kind of impression at Stamford Bridge. Despite having a decent away record, Schalke are struggling this season. Keller himself is under pressure and to make matters worse for the manager his squad is ravaged by injuries to key players with the likes of Chinedu Obasi, Jefferson Farfan, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Marco Hoger all sidelined. A positive byproduct of the German side's injury woes has been the emergence of a couple of exciting young talents in Julian Draxler and 18-year-old Max Meyer, whom Chelsea's defence will be advised to monitor closely. Draxler found the net in Schalke's 2-0 away win at Hertha Berlin at the weekend and last month Meyer became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to score in three successive games.

Statistics favour Chelsea who will be going in search of their 100th win in UEFA competition on Wednesday night. Despite the loss to Basel in their opening Group E match this season, the Blues boast an exceptionally strong home record in the first phase of the Champions League, with the defeat against the Swiss side ending a near-decade-long 29-game unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho has already highlighted the fact that Chelsea are in a "stable position to qualify" while also noting that a further loss would put the Blues in a "difficult position."

With a starting XI likely to reflect Mourinho's recent and bitter disappointment with some of his players, Chelsea supporters will be expecting to see a committed display and a positive result -- anything else, and the crisis-toting doom-mongers that departed SW6 at the end of September will come flocking back to the Bridge in droves.

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