Top spot the motivation for Chelsea against Steaua

Posted by Phil Lythell

Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty ImagesChelsea are hoping for a repeat performance of their previous win versus Steaua Bucharest in order to finish atop their Champions League group.

When Chelsea take the field against Steaua Bucharest on Wednesday evening the equation for them is simple: win the game and they will finish top of Group E and seeded in the first knockout round in the New Year

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Having already comprehensively beaten the Romanian champions 4-0 on their own patch earlier in the campaign, there might be a temptation for those selected to take their foot off the pedal in expectation of an easy night, though they should not lack for motivation. All the players need to be asked is who would they like to face in the next round if they are to continue their march through to the latter stages of Europe's elite club competition?

Would they prefer to face reigning champions Bayern Munich, Spanish powerhouses Real Madrid or Barcelona or an enriched PSG team glittering with star quality -- a fate that could befall them should points be squandered and either Basel or Schalke take advantage. Or would they prefer the lesser, if still testing, challenges of a Zenit St Petersburg, a Shakhtar Donetsk or an Olympiakos -- the potential prize for doing what is required.

While nothing is guaranteed -- with last year's finalists Borussia Dortmund or Chelsea's nemesis from last season, Juventus, possible opponents even if first place is secured -- the collective answer should be obvious. The familiar refrain that if a team wants to win a major competition it must beat the best does ring true, though it certainly helps if a meeting with the most dangerous teams can be delayed for as long as is practical.

With Jose Mourinho likely to make a number of changes to the starting eleven that began the defeat at Stoke City on Saturday, there should be increased motivation among those given the chance to impress. Chief among those are two alterations to the back line and the return of David Luiz and Ashley Cole to the line-up should see two highly driven, proud professionals keen to prove to their manager that they merit regular football.

Luiz has been out of the limelight due to an injury that compounded a couple of high-profile mistakes and will be desperate to get back into contention especially with the World Cup in his homeland on the horizon. The Brazilian had seemed to have eradicated momentary lapses of judgement from his game, but key errors that resulted in goals conceded against Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion set him back in the eyes of his manager and he will need to exhibit defensive solidity ahead of his natural flair if he is to get back into Mourinho's good books. In his favour has been the sketchy form of Gary Cahill who has lacked decisiveness in set-piece situations lately and could benefit from a rest. Luiz will have the opportunity to reassert himself and a positive comeback would have the added plus of introducing significantly more creativity from a deeper position.

Meanwhile, Cole has seen his virtually guaranteed left back berth be passed onto a right back in the shape of Cesar Azpilicueta, the result of an uncharacteristically average season. The Englishman has set such incredibly high standards for himself throughout his career that any dip below perfection commands attention, though his decline is not terminal. His quality is such that he has been an almost ever-present for club and country for a decade, a situation that would place huge demands on even the most honed physique. Yet Cole has played with a constant ankle concern for the past few seasons -- a condition that precludes him from training in the days immediately after a game -- and that must certainly have had an effect on his performances. Azpilicueta has been a more than capable deputy, though he is no match for Cole in his pomp. Against Steaua, the stalwart can show the manager just what he has been missing.

There could also be outings for Willian and Kevin De Bruyne, two players who have struggled for regular game time and will be hoping to have an impact. Rumours of a possible loan move back to the Bundesliga for the Belgian have been doing the rounds so a good performance could see him have an immediate future at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea seek to turn around their erratic form.

In addition to their own objectives, whoever is selected will also be made aware that Steaua should not be taken lightly. The Blues might have summarily dismissed them in Romania, but since then Steaua have earned a point from each of their subsequent three matches. Domestically, they have also become rather fond of a draw with their last four league games also ending in stalemate. Another similar outcome and Chelsea might find themselves travelling to the Santiago Bernabeu or Camp Nou in the next round -- not the most welcoming of venues.

Targeting a big scalp and their first win in this season’s competition, the Romanians will have taken note of Chelsea's recent defensive frailties and are likely to gamble on set-pieces due to the mental block that seems to envelop the Londoners when the ball falls loose in the penalty area. Steaua might not be prolific goal-scorers, but the dead ball can be a great leveller of talent and the Blues must beware.

Still, with the talent at Chelsea's disposal there really is no excuse for them to emerge with anything other than a win. As long as the attitude is right, the goals should duly arrive.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell


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