Chelsea's European defence faces tricky opening night

Posted by Phil Lythell

With memories of Munich glory still fresh in the memory, Chelsea kick off their defence of the Champions League on Wednesday.

It is tempting to live permanently in the afterglow of 19th May 2012; images of Thomas Muller's premature celebration, Didier Drogba's header, Arjen Robben's saved penalty, Drogba's winning kick and Roberto Di Matteo's joyous lifting of the cup continually flashing across one's eyes. But football is eternal and is constantly regenerating allowing teams to build on the previous campaign's successes or right last year's wrongs. It is with these ambitions in mind that a pursuit of a second European Cup gets underway.



And it could not begin with a tougher challenge. Juventus are the reigning Serie A champions and they claimed their 28th Scudetto without losing a game. The ‘Old Lady' was the strongest team that Chelsea could have drawn from Pot 2 (with Manchester City not eligible to join a group headed by a fellow English club) and they will be desperate to impress on their return to Europe's top table.

Among their numbers will be some faces familiar to the Blues. Nicklas Bendtner will be keen to make his mark back on London soil having joined on loan from Arsenal though he has rarely been a striker to make defenders quiver in their boots. One player who will send shivers down the spine of John Terry and Ashley Cole is Mirko Vucinic. The Montenegro international ran Chelsea ragged as he scored twice when playing for Roma against the Blues in a Champions League group stage fixture almost four years ago and with two goals already to his name he will be the man most likely to punish the holders.

The tricky Sebastian Giovinco will be another to keep tabs on while the sorcery of Andrea Pirlo is well known by all. At the back, Juventus have a wealth of experience to draw on with Gianluigi Buffon shielded by fellow Italy internationals Andre Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini; the trio providing a formidable wall of defiance that conceded just 20 goals in their march to the title.

As the reigning champions of Europe and opening the new campaign at home, the onus will be on Chelsea to take the game to their opponents. Naturally we all want to see free-flowing attacking football however it must be remembered that while the Champions League is not quite a marathon, it certainly isn't a sprint. A draw at home would not be the worst result as long as lesser opposition are dispatched with few alarms. Arguably, what is more important is the performance. The two quality teams that Chelsea have faced this season - Manchester City and Atletico Madrid - both created a host of chances on their way to victory so it would be nice to see that those problems have been addressed when the Blues undertake their next big examination.

Once again the displays of John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard will be scrutinised as will the discipline and composure of David Luiz but equally as important will be the contribution in the attacking third. The last two outings have seen Chelsea's attack blunted with Fernando Torres on the periphery in Monaco and at Loftus Road. Some have cited a lack of service to the front man and that has certainly been part of the story but his movement, along with his desire to make things happen by himself, has also been questionable. A show of commitment to the cause would go a long way to dispelling any concerns that he might be reverting to the Torres of the previous 18 months.

Reports that John Terry is winning his battle for fitness are very encouraging as experience is key on big occasions such as these. That said, I would love to see Oscar given a decent run-out either from the start or from the bench. He has understandably been used sparingly given his lack of pre-season assimilation in the squad but he retains the kind of vision and ability that looks to be ideally suited to European competition. What I definitely do not want to see is a repeat of Ramires and Ryan Bertrand both starting the game posted on the flank. Caution is all very well when protecting a lead or playing vastly superior opposition but deploying both against QPR fatally undermined the team's ambition.

Three points would be very welcome on Wednesday but with a trip to Arsenal looming in a couple of weeks' time, a demonstration of cohesion and balance throughout the team would be equally as pleasing.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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