Chelsea may have avoided the most dangerous sides in the Champions League draw, but FC Copenhagen were still good enough to qualify in a group that included Barcelona, Russian champions Rubin Kazan, and Panithanikos, emerging with ten points. They split the matches against Kazan, won both games against Panithanikos, and managed to hold Barca to a draw at home, ultimately finishing four points clear of third place in Group D to reach the knockout rounds for the first time in their fairly short history. Interestingly, this isn't the first time we've faced off against Copenhagen - Chelsea met them in the 1998 Cup-Winners Cup as well, emerging 2-1 victors in the double-legged tie thanks to a 1-0 win in Denmark and a 1-1 draw at home.
Despite being the among the most widely-supported teams in Scandinavia, FC Copenhagen (FCK) has only actually existed since 1992, which makes the club younger than Ryan Giggs' Premier League career. They're actually the product of a merging of two much older sides who joined together in the hopes of creating a juggernaught in Copenhagen. Things didn't go so well in the beginning, but they're now the highest-ranked team in the region, and qualification for the knockout rounds represents a big step forward for the club.
It's great for the fans but from my point of view it’s one of three teams that we definitely didn't want. [Manchester] United, Real Madrid and Chelsea are the three we wouldn't [want to] draw.
-Stale Solbakken, FCK manager. Source: Sky Sports News
The reasons for this are pretty clear - for all the improvement the Danish side have shown and their good form so far in the Champions League, FCK are a fairly one-dimensional outlet, reliant on pacy striker Dame N’Doye to win games for them. N'Doye scored two out of Copenhagen's three winning goals in the group stages (Chelsea old boy Jespar Gronkjaer got the other), and has generally caused havoc whenever he's played. Panithanikos had huge problems against him thanks to a lack of pace at centreback, but if Branislav Ivanovic or Alex can back up John Terry in the middle it's unlikely that the Senegalese striker will run rampant through Chelsea's defence.
Whether Chelsea can break them down and score themselves is an open question. When faced with bigger sides, Copenhagen tend to play very deep with two banks of four and use N'Doye as their outlet, very similar to the way Roy Hodgeson's Fulham operated during their deep Europa League run last year. This will naturally make things difficult for the Blues, who've been lacking the creativity to unlock defences as of late. The games aren't until February (in Copenhagen) and March (at Stamford Bridge), so I'd expect Frank Lampard to be totally re-integrated with the team by that point - this should alleviate most of our problems with midfield creativity.
If FCK do sit back, this might also become an issue for our wide players. It's hard to exploit space on the flanks when you have a fullback and a wide midfielder in close attendance at all times, which will probably render Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa's overlaps far less dangerous. In last year's now infamous semi-final against inter Milan, Barcelona saw first hand just how difficult it can be to exploit any sort of space when the opposition simply packs the final third and refuses to come out.
Fortunately, we have something that Barcelona does not: Didier Drogba. If Copenhagen do indeed drop deep, Drogba suddenly becomes a major aerial threat from any ball pumped into the box. If Chelsea can find Drogba in the air from range, FCK are in trouble. Otherwise, the attack may be reliant on set pieces. Long-range shots will also come into play, as teams defending in disciplined banks are notoriously reluctant to close down shots from extreme range (25+ yards). Chelsea have a couple of players with a penchant for spectacular long-range efforts on the squad, so look for them to be having a go as well.
Not to be forgotten in all of this is Copenhagen's home form. While playing at Parken Stadium they've managed to beat Rubin Kazan, obliterated Panithanikos, and scrape a 1-1 draw against Barcelona. In the league, their home form reads played eleven, won nine, drawn two, scored 22 and conceded seven. In their last expedition to the Champions League, they managed to dispose of both Celtic (3-1) and Manchester United (1-0) at Parken. In short, the first leg of the tie might be problematic, especially as it's a game Chelsea really need to score in.
It's obvious that Chelsea are a better side than their opponents here, but they have several advantages that may come into play. Danish football employs a winter break, ensuring that their squad will be fresh, fit, and have plenty of time to prepare a game plan for dealing with the Blues. There'll also be absolutely no pressure on Copenhagen to achieve any sort of result, which is often the recipe of a major upset. Chelsea shouldn't by any means take their opponents for granted here.
Make no mistake, this was a good draw - Arsenal ended up with Barcelona and Tottenham with AC Milan, so compared to their next matches this is a walk in a park. But if the Blues go in with any sort of complacency, things could get ugly.
The first leg is in Copenhagen on the 22nd of February. They'll be ready. Hopefully we will be too.