It's been a few years since we've got to make the final Champions League group match a meaningless, pressure-less affair. Not since the days of Carlo Ancelotti and Josh McEachran have we entered the last matchday guaranteed to not only advance to the knockout round but advance as group winners. We left it late under AVB, faltered under RDM, and even last year under Mourinho we could've been pipped to the spot by FC Basel. And that just would've been embarrassing, right, Liverpool?
No such danger this year, not even a remote one as we entertain Sporting Lisbon for the first time ever at Stamford Bridge. Sporting do have something to play for -- they need at least a draw to guarantee advancement; a loss coupled with a Schalke win in Maribor would put Di Matteo's men into the knockout round instead -- and should be appropriately motivated. There shall be rotation (probably), there shall be goals (possibly), there shall be entertainment (definitely).
Date / Time: Wednesday, December 10, 19:45 GMT; 2:45pm EST; 1:15am IST
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen - the 35-year-old Norwegian isn't exactly a household name (unless you're counting kitchen faucets), but this will actually be his third Chelsea game, though the first in over three years. Last time we saw him was our 1-1 draw in Genk in 2011. That season's Champions League campaign turned out a-ok, didn't it?
Forecast: Sunshiny but breezy day, followed by a cool, windy night.
On TV: Sky Sports 1 (UK); Fox Soccer Plus, Fox Sports regional networks, MASN2 (USA); Ten HD (India); elsewhere
Online: Sky Go (UK); Fox Soccer 2Go, Fox Sports GO, ESPN3 (USA); Ten Sports Live (India)
Chelsea Team News: The big news of course is that Ruben Loftus-Cheek is set to make his Chelsea debut. Whether from the start or as a sub, the 18-year-old finally will take the step that many have been expecting for some time now, especially since his impressive displays against Manchester City and Yaya Touré in the post-season USA tour 18 months ago.
Youngsters other than Loftus-Cheek could very well be in the matchday squad as well. Lewis Baker hasn't had his turn yet, for example, while Nathan Aké (if fit) and Andreas Christensen haven't featured in some time as well. Several first-team regulars are set to take a holiday on the bench or in the stands, which means that the likes of André Schürrle, Mohamed Salah, Loïc Rémy, Kurt Zouma, et al. should get another chance to impress and create selection dilemmas for the manager. Petr Čech should get the start in goal, while Cesc Fàbregas might get a run-out seeing as how he's suspended for the weekend. Diego Costa apparently will start as well, surely due to a short-circuit in a logic board somewhere.
Either way, it's quite likely that we'll get a very different Chelsea side than the ones we've gotten used to over much of the season so far, and that's a very good thing.
Sporting Lisbon Team News: The big news for the visitors is that Manchester United loanee Nani is out with a thigh injury. Center back Cédric Soares is suspended after picking up his third yellow card of the group stage last time out. Frequent transfer rumor fodder William Carvalho should be there, as should WAGNH favorite Fredy Montero (either from the start or off the bench).
After a second place finish last season, Sporting are somewhat off the pace this season in fourth. They've only lost once, but have drawn almost as many games (5) as they've won (6). Things have taken a slight turn for the better lately, with four straight wins and six matches unbeaten in all competitions.
Previously: Nemanja Matić scored the lone goal when we won 1-0 in Lisbon earlier this season.