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Chelsea's fixture list gets very, very difficult

Michael Steele

The 4-2 victory against Tottenham Hotspur kicked off ten-game a spell that could easily make or break Chelsea's season. The Blues had a bit of a cakewalk to start the season, with only Arsenal, Newcastle United and Juventus as serious tests, but now they're into the meat of the fixture list, and things aren't going to get easier for at least a month. Check it out:

Oct. 20: Tottenham Hotspur (A)

Oct. 23: Shakhtar Donetsk (A)

Oct. 28: Manchester United (H)

Oct. 31: Manchester United (H)

Nov. 3: Swansea City (A)

Nov. 7: Shakhtar Donetsk (H)

Nov. 11: Liverpool (H)

Nov. 17: West Bromwich Albion (A)

Nov. 20: Juventus (A)

Nov. 25: Manchester City (H)

Chelsea, of course, can stand up to any of those teams on any given day, but the fact of the matter is that we're entering what is, on paper, the most brutal part of the season. Out of the six league fixtures, the easiest is probably Liverpool at home, and while the Reds' star has waned dramatically over the last couple of seasons they're still something of a bogey team for us and I'm far from confident of a result there. Elsewhere... well, it's ugly viewing.

The Blues emerged from these league matches with six points last season, beating Manchester City at home in what was Andre Villas-Boas' finest moment as Chelsea manager but losing to Liverpool and West Brom, drawing the rest of the matches. We're already well on our way to bettering that pace with the win over Spurs, but the appalling record from last year really underlines just how difficult these games are. Getting even 12 points from the possible 18 should regarded as a major accomplishment, but that's also probably the minimum level required to sustain the title challenge.

And then there's the Champions League. The not entirely unexpected loss in Ukraine combined with allowing Juventus to recover from a 2-0 lead at Stamford Bridge has left the Blues in a precarious position in Group E. They'll have to beat Shakhtar in the return leg and probably need three points in Turin on top of that to be reasonably confident of finishing first -- anything less than that and our European Cup defence looks very dicey indeed.

Those games, as we've seen, won't be easy. Juventus weren't quite as impressive as their reputations suggested in September, but they're still a good side and more than capable of causing us problems, while Shakhtar gave us a merry rodgering at the Donbass Arena earlier this week. Neither game is a trivial three point affair (although we do close out against Nordsjaelland, at least).

It'd be nice if we had a plum assignment in the Capital One Cup to break all of this up... but nope, it's Manchester United again. Ugh.

So, question -- what are your expectations for this span? And what's the minimum return you'd be happy with?

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