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A Chelsea Champions League Preview: Group Stages

Didier Drogba will be reunited with old friends in Marseille, Chelsea's most dangerous Group B opponent.
Didier Drogba will be reunited with old friends in Marseille, Chelsea's most dangerous Group B opponent.

Chelsea find themselves in one of the easiest groups of the tournament, avoiding all of the major spoilers in Pots 2, 3, and 4. Spartak Moscow and MSK Zilinia were both the worst ranked teams in their respective pots, and Marseille were second from the bottom in Pot 2, with only Greek side Panithanikos below them. The Blues should have an easy path towards the knockout rounds, but let's try and get a better read on our opponents.

Olympique de Marseille topped Ligue 1 last year ahead of Lyon and Auxerre, finishing six points ahead of Lyon in second place. They have a reasonably solid defence and one of the most potent attacks in Ligue 1, spearheaded by new signings Andre-Pierre Gignac and Loic Remy, who arrived this summer for the combined sum of €30M. Chelsea fans will remember Marseille as the club from whom we bought Didier Drogba in 2004, and since then they've been steadily climbing the ranks, finishing in the top three in each of the past four seasons. Europe has brought them less sucess, however: They've come third in all three Champions League groups they've participated in this decade. Their coefficient is held up by some reasonably long UEFA Cup runs, but this is hardly a team that ranks amongst the elite of Europe. Marseille aren't doing too well in the league at the moment, with three points out of three games played, including some losses to relatively weak opposition. Let's hope that their poor form continues through the autumn.

Verdict: We should beat them pretty handily at Stamford Bridge, but they'll be a tougher proposition in France, perhaps snatching a draw against us. 4/6 points

Spartak Moscow finished behind Rubin Kazan in the Russian Premier League last season, but they're still runaway leaders on the all-time table, almost 100 points ahead of closest competitors Lokomotiv. They've had a tough time of things in the Champions League, having failed to get out of the group stages since 2000, when Leeds were still in the tournament. With the sale of Roman Pavlyuchenko to Spurs in 2008, their top striker is now Brazilian Welliton, although tactics guru Jonathan Wilson has something to say about another one of their forwards:

Chelsea fans should look out for Jano Ananidze, 17yo Georgian forward for Spartak. Very special - tends to play wide in 4-2-3-1..

It sounds like the attack will once again be a handful for our defence, but it's hard to imagine them keeping us off the scoresheet. Fortunately the match won't go to a penalty shootout - Chelsea haven't had the best of luck on that pitch...

Verdict: Another easy win at the Bridge, as the Blues have far more quality at both ends of the pitch than Moscow. On the other hand, it's a very long trip to Moscow in the winter, and it's always easy for English teams to drop points going that far east. 4/6 points

MSK Zilinia are the pride of Slovakian football, having overcome Maltese side Birkirkara, Bulgarians Litex Lovech, and finally Sparta Prague in the qualifiers. This year is the first time they've made it all the way to the group stages, but it's doubtful that they'll advance much further. Beating Prague 2-0 on the road is a pretty good result, and Chelsea won't be underestimating the side, but they're by far the lowest ranked team in the whole tournament, so it's hard to see anything but maximum points coming from the two matches we have against them. Fortunately, there's no astroturf to worry about, but that doesn't mean all the 'astro' has been taken out of things: From above, their stadium is designed to look like Star Trek's USS Enterprise.

Some might remember Zilinia being Chelsea's first European opponents under the reign of Roman Abramovich: we defeated them by a combined score of 5-0 in the third qualifying round of the 2003/2004 Champions League

Verdict: They're simply not in our league talent-wise, and we have to expect easy wins home and away. 6/6 points

Fourteen points out of a possible eighteen seems reasonable enough and would mean a pretty easy first place finish for the Blues. There is absolutely no reason that they'd fail to advance from the group stages, and this will be an absolute cakewalk if the Blues manage to win in Russia or France.

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