This is a bit awkward. Despite having scored the most goals and possessing the best overall goal difference, Chelsea only sit second in Group E as we head into Matchday 5 of the 2012 UEFA Champions League Group Stages. Thanks to UEFA's over-complicated tiebreaker system, which counts not only head-to-head results but head-to-head goal difference and away goals, it is Shakhtar Donetsk who are the better placed. In fact, the exciting bunch from beyond the old Iron Curtain can guarantee their place in the knockout rounds by simply performing to expectations and slapping silly the FCN Jellybelly Cupcakes of Denmark, in Denmark before heading home and avoiding a loss against Juventus.
The second part may not even matter of course, due to the aforementioned tiebreaker, should Chelsea lose on Tuesday. On the other hand, we should hope that the Ukrainians (well, Brazilians) still take it seriously, for if Shakhtar win both of their matches, Chelsea only have to win at the Bridge versus FCN in order to progress into the knockout rounds. But having to rely on results elsewhere is a bad place to be.
So what's a good place to be? A win or a draw in Turin would be a start. Barring an epic collapse on Matchday 6, a point gained on Matchday 5 guarantees at least second place in Group E for Chelsea. A point gained and the club avoids the possibility of having to sulk shamefaced into the Europa League as the first ever defending champion to fail to advance from the group stages. A point gained (especially THREE points gained) and all of a sudden we feel a lot better about two wins from the last seven in all competitions. A point gained and we get to look forward to the prospect of knockout round Champions League football (few things are better or more exciting). A point gained and we avoid a thermonuclear meltdown of the WAGNH servers.
So, I guess, to sum it up: please don't lose, please don't lose, please don't lose, PLEASE DON'T LOSE!
Juventus: The Old Lady may be in a bit of a mini-slump as well, having won just once in their last three Serie A contests and having seen their 49-league-match unbeaten streak come to a crashing 3-1 end at the hands of Internazionale.
Over the weekend, they also dropped points to Lazio, in a 0-0 draw that saw a couple key players rested (albeit via suspension & illness). Despite the suspended Andrea Pirlo's absence, Juventus had the upper hand but they failed to make their chances count. Sound familiar? Well, actually, no it shouldn't - unlike Chelsea, Juventus never quite looked like self-destructing at their own hair-raising passages of "defending." Speaking of tactics, feel free to review Tim's opposition scouting report from earlier to season.
So then, by all accounts, Juventus should have their full squad available for this match. Pirlo is ready. Mirko Vucinic has gotten over his flu. Simone Pepe is back from long-term injury. Arturo Vidal is apparently back in good form, while Fabio Quagliarella has five goals in his last five appearances. The new stadium will be rocking and Chelsea will have to come-a-knocking.
Chelsea: The Old Guard, or whatever remains of them, is old and crocked but at least Ashley Cole is back. So it's pretty much going to be the new Chelsea out there, although Di Matteo has hinted at a bit more of a defensive outlook to help shore up the sieve in front of Petr Cech's goal. To me that means a splitting up of the Trifecta, with either Eden Hazard or Juan Mata dropping to the bench and replaced by a defensive winger in either Ryan Bertrand or Victor Moses.
The British media, still blinded by the sheer amount of space that was afforded by the England National Team to Pirlo, are once again praising the deep-lying one's rhythmic pulling of strings. Quick, somebody alert Agent Oscar to put the bearded one into his back pocket once again!
The rest of the team will have to follow suit and play solid defense. An early chanced goal would be fantastic but I'd be equally happy to head into the final quarter hour tied and looking to bring on Eden Hazard and Victor Moses to run the tired hosts ragged on the counter. For Juventus will have to push for the win and Chelsea should have opportunities to score.
Of course, scoring does require a striker normally. Should I dare to guess who will play striker for Chelsea in this one? Trying to guess the cure for cancer may be easier. So, no.
Ok, fine. Daniel Sturridge.
Date/Time: Tuesday, November 20, 19:45 (GMT); 2:45 PM (EST); Wednesday, November 21, 1:15 AM (IST)
Venue: Juventus Stadium, Torino, Italy
TV Information: ITV 1 (UK); Fox Soccer (USA); TEN Sports (India)
Salute your Gladiators (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech; Ashley Cole, David Luiz, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic; John Obi Mikel, Ramires; Ryan Bertrand, Oscar, Juan Mata; Daniel Sturridge
...please don't lose...