It’s hard to believe because it feels like a million years ago, but just three games ago, Chelsea put together one of the best displays we’ve seen in recent memory.
On Matchday 2 of the Champions League group stage, Chelsea went to Madrid, a place where almost no visiting has ever won during the Simeone Era, and essentially dominated Atlético Madrid from start to finish. While the final scoreline didn’t quite reflect this dominance, and we needed a last-kick (literally) winner from Michy Batshuayi, the overall performance was one that impressed all observers and gave hope for a fantastic season ahead.
Two games and two losses later, that hope is in danger of evaporating for good. Sitting in fifth, nine points adrift already of top of the table Manchester City in the Premier League, Chelsea probably would need another winning streak of double digits to truly get back into title contention. And this time, we would have to contend with regular midweek commitments, which have already seen Chelsea play two more games since September than this time last season. That may not sound like much (the third additional one is this game), but the extra travel, the reduced training and recovery time, and the increased physical and mental workload all add up.
“It’s a good time to play again after two defeats [...] but the Champions League is a very tough tournament and we must pay great attention to Roma because they are a good team and are doing very well.”
Just as last month, we’re in the midst of a 7-games-in-21-days stretch, with injuries, flagging confidence, never-ending rumors, and all the usual media hubbub adding to the fun and the challenge.
The situation is a bit rosier in the Champions League so far, with two wins from two and a clear path into the knockout round. A win tonight would all but seal that qualification.
Date / Time: Wednesday, October 18, 19:45 BST; 2:45pm EDT; 12:15am IST (next day)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Damir Skomina — our reunion tour of 2012 Champions League referees continues with Skomina, after last month’s encounter with Cüneyt Çakır. Skomina was in charge of Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Benfica in the quarterfinals five years ago (the one with the Meireles goal). He’s since refereed three more Chelsea games, but we’ve won none of those so let’s not talk about them.
Forecast: A semi-cold, semi-damp night in England
On TV: BT Sport 3 (UK); FOX Sports regional networks & affiliates (USA); Sony TEN 2 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: BT Sport Live (UK); FOX Soccer Match Pass, ESPN3 (select regions) (USA); Sony LIV (India)
Chelsea team news: By all indications, Álvaro Morata will be fit to start tonight, replacing Michy Batshuayi in the starting lineup. Unfortunately, replacing Morata in the treatment room is Victor Moses, who’s set to miss about a month with the hamstring injury he picked up over the weekend. N’Golo Kanté and Danny Drinkwater remain injured as well.
After going unbeaten in eight games in all competitions, Chelsea have lost two in a row. That’s only happened once before under Conte and the response was nothing short of amazing. Let’s hope for something similar this time!
AS Roma team news: Eusebio Di Francesco, a former Italy international and somewhat Conte-esque midfielder, has been in charge of Roma since the summer, when he got the reward for his good work at Sassuolo with the big job in the capital. And things were going along decently enough before the weekend’s defeat that dropped the team to fifth, much like Chelsea. Incidentally, EDF has yet to fail to win an away game as Roma head coach in four tries.
The loss to Napoli was a bit of a double whammy with Roma’s best defender, Kostas Manolas going down with injury and promising midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini picking up a knock as well, though the latter did travel with the team to London.
After finishing second to Juventus last season, Roma lost key players in Mo Salah (Liverpool), Leandro Paredes (Zenit), and Antonio Rüdiger (hey, that’s us!), while the legendary Francesco Totti finally retired at the ripe old age of a 264. Replacements of sorts arrived, with a good mix of veterans (Mexican international Hector Moreno, French international Maxime Gonalons, Manchester City cast-off Aleksandar Kolarov) and youngsters (Pellegrini, Ünder, Karsdorp, Schick) adding plenty of options, if not quite as much quality to the team.
Of course, we shouldn’t forget about the usual stalwarts, many of whom have been linked with Chelsea at one time or another — Nainggolan chief amongst them, but also the institution known as Daniele De Rossi, former lamppost now Ballon d’Or nominee Edin Dzeko, Kevin “as fragile as MvG” Strootman, often Spursy Federico Fazio, Conte-favorite Alessandro Florenzi, and of course the lovely (and personal favorite) Stephan “Il Faraone” El Shaarawy. Roma’s goalkeeper, Alisson has made a big step up in quality this season, too, from backing up Sczeszny last season to backstopping the Brazilian national team.
Roma beat Qarabag in Azerbaijan on Matchday 2 and got a credible 0-0 draw against Atlético on Matchday 1, and thus sit second in the group behind Chelsea. Any point here tonight would be a tremendous boost to their hopes of making the knockout round.
View from the enemy: Chiesa di Totti
Previously: The only two competitive meetings between the two sides happened nine years ago in the Champions League group stage, with Big Phil Scolari’s Chelsea winning 1-0 at home and losing 3-1 in Rome. Somewhat unbelievably, John Terry scored both Chelsea goals, in almost the exact same minute of both games (77th and 75th). Mirko Vučinić, who would go on to play for Conte at Juventus, grabbed a brace in the last meeting. Since then, Chelsea also played Roma in at least one friendly, in the summer of 2013. Here are highlights of that encounter, featuring some hilarious goalkeeping from Mark Schwarzer.