Here's something crazy: this will be the fourth time we play Steaua Bucharest in the last nine months (three of which were spent out-of-season). That makes them, along with Manchester City if we count those marketing exercises in the USA, our most familiar opposition over that time period.
I'd probably be ok with not playing them for a while after tomorrow, especially since their passage back to the Champions League next year is nowhere near guaranteed - unlike past seasons when they've dominated the Romanian League, they are currently just third, six points behind leaders Astra Giurgiu, albeit with two games-in-hand.
We found this out first-hand in October as well, coming away with a comprehensive 4-0 victory from Romania after losing there 1-0 in March in one of the worst performances in recent memory. And while Steaua have not lost another competitive match since our visit, they've also only won once in their last seven outings.
With very little left to play for in the group - Chelsea have already qualified and Steaua have already been consigned to fourth and last - there's a decent chance this will turn into a mostly fun affair. With Mourinho promising (more) rotation than normal, and those rotating in surely aiming to impress, I think it would not be unreasonable to expect a nice crooked number up on the scoreboard next to Chelsea's name.
A win would guarantee top spot and presumably a more favorable draw for us in the Round of 16. Anything less opens the door for Basel or Schalke to top the group. There are a few minor variations but basically, it's highly unlikely that Chelsea do not finish first so we should be able to relax and enjoy ourselves for once.
(But is it ever that easy?)
Date/Time: Wednesday, December 11, 2003, 19:45 GMT; 2:45pm EST; 1:15am IST (next day)
Venue/Location: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Forecast: Mostly sunny day followed by a clear, brisk night; perfect conditions for the stars to come out and play.
On TV: Sky Sports 3 (UK); Fox Soccer Plus (USA); TEN Sports (India)
Chelsea squad news: Besides long-term injury victim Marco van Ginkel, the squad appears to have a clean bill of health. Brazilian trio Oscar, David Luiz, and Willian all in contention for starting spots, while Mourinho looks ready to once again embrace Ashely Cole like the long-lost son stuck in the dungeons of Stamford Bridge that he is.
Steaua Bucharest squad news: While not officially confirmed, presumably they will field one goalkeeper and ten outfield players. They will wear shirts, shorts, and boots with the fur. Minus the fur.
UEFA Youth League: The Baby Blues smacked Steaua 5-0 at Cobham earlier today, with Islam Feruz grabbing a brace and John Swift, Alex Kiwomya, and Ambrose Gnahore also getting in on the act. With the win, Chelsea U19 go a perfect six wins from six, which makes them the only team in the Champions League (both youth or senior) to accomplish that feat. Well done!