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Chelsea Vs. Bayer Leverkusen, UEFA Champions League 2011: Preview

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So, with Sunderland dispatched, Chelsea return to Stamford Bridge to entertain Michael Ballack Bayer Leverkusen for their first Champions League game of the season. This, of course, is the prize for finishing in the top four last season, something Blues fans were desperate for when the team began scuffling in winter, and now that it's here... well, now that we don't have to worry about the ignominy of finishing in fifth place, it's all too easy to remember how pointless the group stages are.

That's no slight against the quality of the opposition we'll be facing - Leverkusen and Valencia are both very good sides that we shouldn't underestimate, but the group stages are designed to bore the top teams on the way to the knockout stages, where the real fun begins. Chelsea will progress, and knowing that makes these matches rather less thrilling than they might have been otherwise.

But hey, Michael Ballack's back. Aces.

Anyway, Leverkusen currently stand fourth in the Bundesliga, with ten points from five games. They're a pretty good side, although they're not in the same class as either Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund, and they'll probably give Chelsea some problems in midfield, where the double pivot of Lars Bender and Simon Rolfes should be able to keep Frank Lampard and Raul Meireles at play. Further ahead, we should probably hope that nostalgia propels Ballack into a starting role, because the Germans have looked much better with Andre Schürrle in the midfield rather than the former Blues stalwart.

The midfield is the most interesting tactical battle between the two sides, and Andre Villas-Boas may choose to match Leverkusen's 4-2-3-1 to lock up the centre and instead focus on the flanks. Ashley Cole was back to something approximating his best against Sunderland and with Jose Bosingwa experiencing a renaissance under the new manager Chelsea can hit any team hard down the wings. Their visitors on Tuesday won't be an exception.

Both Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge were brought off early in Chelsea's 2-1 win over Sunderland, and so it wouldn't be any sort of shock to see one or both play again on Tuesday. If I had to guess, it'd be Sturridge, with Mata rested for the Manchester United match over the weekend. Florent Malouda made a reasonably impressive cameo at the Stadium of Light, and he probably deserves a start here.

With David Luiz back to full fitness, Ramires suspended for that red card against Manchester United and both Michael Essien and Didier Drogba unavailable due to injuries, Chelsea's lineup begins to fall into place:

Chelsea (4-3-3): Petr Cech; Ashley Cole, John Terry, David Luiz, Jose Bosingwa; John Obi Mikel, Raul Meireles, Frank Lampard; Florent Malouda, Fernando Torres, Daniel Sturridge.

The big question is Fernando Torres. The striker had started the season in reasonable form, but looked absolutely dire in his substitute appearance on Saturday. With Romelu Lukaku not on the Champions League squad and Nicolas Anelka ineffective as a main striker, however, Chelsea are probably just going to have to grin and bear it and see if the Spaniard can turn things around. Unelss they want to go with Salomon Kalou which hahahahahaha no.

Anyway, join us here on Tuesday at 7:45 PM BST (2:45 PM EST), and we'll have a nice friendly game thread for you to enjoy. And, hopefully, a 2-0 victory.