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Chelsea vs. Marseille: Champions League Game Preview

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Marseille's Andrew Ayew weaves through the US defence during Ghana's second-round game at the 2010 World Cup.
Marseille's Andrew Ayew weaves through the US defence during Ghana's second-round game at the 2010 World Cup.

Time: 7:45 PM BST (11:45 AM PST), Tuesday September 28th.

Location: Stamford Bridge, London

Preamble: Chelsea are coming off two straight losses for the first time since February, and they can't afford to drop points at home during the Champions League group stages. Marseille are probably the second best team in the group, but they suffered a surprise home defeat to Spartak Moscow in the opening round of fixtures and they don't have anywhere near our talent anyway. Chelsea's last Champions League game was a 4-1 win over MSK Zilina in Slovakia which featured plenty of youth balanced with a reasonably strong veteran presence; hopefully that trend will continue at Stamford Bridge tomorrow.

Opposition: Didier Deschamp's Marseille started their Ligue Un campaign very poorly, picking up just five points from their opening five fixtures. In addition to poor domestic form, their start Champions League may well prove to be disastrous as they last at home to their closest rivals for second in the group stages. Since the loss to Spartak Moscow, however, they've turned a new leaf, winning two matches on the trot and moving up to sixth in the league. Now they're coming to London, where no points are expected. In other words, it's a perfect time to stun the favourites and recoup some of those points lost on the 15th. Here's what I wrote about them when I previewed the group stages in August:

Marseille 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 success, 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.

Gignac and Remy have accounted for 20 shots but zero goals between them (despite Gignac's 17 shots!) - instead the goalscoring has primarily come from Andrew Ayew and Taye Taiwo, both of whom starred for their sides in the World Cup. Ayew in particular is a talent to watch  - he's a very young, very tricky midfielder who might have been Ghana's best player in a number of games, and he's already netted three times on the young season. Taiwo is a defender and thus unlikely to maintain his scorching hot pace, but he's very good in the air and a real threat from set pieces.

Chelsea: Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Salomon Kalou, Jose Bosingwa, and Yossi Benayoun are all out, leaving Carlo Ancelotti with fewer options going into the match than he would like. Lampard's position as a left-sided central midfielder could feasibly be filled with either Yuri Zhirkov or Ramires, who offer two completely contrasting styles of play. With Ramires better suited to a more defensive running game, I'd like to see how well Zhirkov can marshall an offence - his partnerships with both Florent Malouda and Ashley Cole are definitely worth cultivating. At forward, Nicolas Anelka will play in a central role, flanked (presumably) by Daniel Sturridge on the right and Malouda to his left. Gael Kakuta is fit again and could feature. In defence, we'll probably see a fairly typical back line, but it wouldn't be totally out of the question for Jeffrey Bruma or Patrick van Aanholt to make an appearance later on.

Prediction: We'll get back on track here against a mediocre Marseille. I honestly don't see this as anything but a win 2-0 before the half and then holding on for a 3-1 victory sounds about right. What does everyone else think?