Rosenborg, Rosenborg, Rosenborg. Everybody's quick to dismiss the parallels, but there are too many to be not unnerving.
The date was September 17. The opponent an unfancied minnow from a far-away land. The football was uninspiring, the Bridge half empty. It was Mourinho's fourth season, following an FA Cup and League cup double. The pre-match headlines were about eggs and omelettes. There was strife between manager and the medical department (over injuries, mostly). Abramovich was spotted down at the training ground, following reports of tensions over transfers. The summer transfer window was lackluster to say the least, with just one major signing, a winger, and the rest coming in as like-for-like replacements for players who had left. League results were "indifferent".
Today, it's September 16. The opponent an unfancied minnow from a far-away land. Our football's uninspiring, but the Bridge should be sold out. It's Mourinho's third season, following a Premier League and League Cup double. The pre-match headlines are about Googling things and about banter-free zones. There is strife between manager and the medical department (not over injuries, mostly). Abramovich was spotted down at the training ground, following reports of tensions over transfers. The summer transfer window was lackluster to say the least, with just one major signing, a winger, and the rest coming in as like-for-like replacements for players who had left. League results have been tragic.
Obviously it's not all the same. We're actually doing far worse in the league now (3 losses from 5; just 1 win) than back then (3 wins from 6; just 1 loss), but an Abramovich training ground visit has long since stopped being a surefire harbinger of fire and brimstone and managerial doom. Not to mention, there's no
undertaker Avram Grant lurking ominously in the background. The tension back then was all about club control, but supposedly Mourinho has given much of that up. In fact, the big-name striker we're trying to make work this time, Falcao, was basically all the manager's doing, rather than the owner meddling with things to bring in Andrei Shevchenko. And while reports keep going on about how the board failed Mourinho in this summer's transfer market, the manager has maintained since the start of the summer that he's happy with the squad.
Two days after the 1-1 draw with Rosenborg in 2007, Mourinho left "by mutual consent". There's a very simple way to avoid even a hint of such a possibility this time: win. Just win, baby.
Date / Time: September 16, 2015, 19:45 BST; 2:45pm EDT; 12:15am IST (next day)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Felix Zwayer — a complete unknown around these parts and very much a rookie at the Champions League level (this is his first group stage match ever), the 34-year-old German seems rather trigger happy with 10 reds handed out in his last 10 matches. Yikes.
Forecast: Rain, rain, and more rain; heaviest just before kick-off. Yellow warning for rain. Red warning for referee. Winter is coming.
On TV: BT Sport 2 (UK); Fox Sports regional networks + affiliates like MASN & ROOT (USA); TEN Sports (India); elsewhere
Online: BT Sport (UK); Fox Soccer 2Go (USA); TEN Sports Live (India)
Chelsea team news: Thibaut Courtois's out long-term following meniscus surgery; Falcao and Pedro are out with minor knocks picked up over the last couple days. Oscar and Ramires should be back, with the former predicted to start. Others also predicted to start: Gary Cahill, Baba Rahman, Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The rest sort of pick themselves following reports that Mourinho will be dropping the likes of Ivanovic, Terry, Matic, and Diego Costa.
"At other clubs you have to go back two, three, five, six, ten years to remember good results. In our case you have to go back three months. Three months ago we were the best team in the country, the best manager, the best players."
-Jose Mourinho; source: Chelsea FC
We have played 10 matches now since the start of preseason. We have one, ONE (1)!!, one stinking victory (in regulation). It doesn't get much more desperate. In further bad omens, we've begun our last three Champions League campaigns with two draws and a defeat, all three at home. Did I mention it's getting a bit desperate?
Maccabi Tel-Aviv team news: The visitors have brought their own live voodoo doll along to remind us of 2007 in the from of Tal Ben Haim (defender). He's not to be confused with the much more talented Tal Ben Haim (winger). Apparently we use the roman numerals I and II to differentiate between the older ex-Chelsea man and the younger namesake, tough on the shirts they read Ben Haim and Ben Chaim, respectively, which seems a better method. Tal Ben Haim I only lasted one season at Stamford Bridge, but we've tried to counteract his magic powers by making an equally head-scratching singing in center back Papy Djilobodji, who's of course ineligible because we didn't have room to register him.
Other than winger Ben Haim II (can play either side), Maccabi's biggest dangerman is 28-year-old midfielder-winger-forward Eran Zahavi. He was the Champions League qualifying phase's leading goalscorer with 7 goals in 5 games and at one point last season scored in 18 consecutive matches in the Israeli league.
"...it is the mercurial Eran Zahavi who really catches the eye and must be closely monitored. Left midfield, right midfield, number 10 and even as an out-and-out striker, this boy has one outstanding feature, and I say this advisedly and not lightly, he finishes like Frank Lampard! I accept that he is not doing it at the rarefied level Lamps used to do so for us, but he can score, particularly if he comes off the left-hand side. He cuts in and is deadly from there. Whoever is playing right full-back for the Blues must get close, deny him space and on no account let him shoot."
-Pat Nevin; source: Chelsea FC
The visitors are managed by former Chelsea disappointment Slaviša Jokanović, who guided Watford to promotion from the Championship last season (and to a loss at the Bridge in the FA Cup). But they decided to go in a different direction anyway, so Jokanović ended up at the back-to-back-to-back champions of Israel. Not the worst trade.
Previously: Chelsea have never faced Maccabi Tel-Aviv, though we did play Hapoel Tel-Aviv back in 2001, losing in the second round of the UEFA Cup 3-1 on aggregate. So instead, here are the "highlights" of 1-1 vs. Rosenborg. Do note that we'd go on to two (unsuccessful) cup finals and a very close second in the league later that season, with Grant basically continuing what Mourinho had started. We were literally a slip away from at least one trophy.