Group E was no different,it featured the European Champions Chelsea along with ItalianSerie A winners Juventus, who had made a return to European football after a gap of two season, Ukranian top-dogs Shakhtar Donetsk and debutants FC Nordsjaelland. Chelsea and Juventus were seen as the clear favourites to progress to the Round of 16 of the Champions League.
Four matches for each team in the Group has resulted in a situation where any two amongst Chelsea, Shakhtar and Juventus could make it to the knockout phases. Juventus needed three draws before finding their feet against FC Nordsjaelland at Turin, Chelsea were outclassed in both legs against Shakhtar Donetsk despite grabbing a late winner in the return leg at London and Shakhtar have proved their doubters wrong with every passing game.
Juventus will be taking on the European champions at home this week knowing that only a win will help in realising their ambitions to return to the upper echelons of Europe. Chelsea will need a win to ensure qualification for the knockout phases despite being on top of Group E at the moment. Both sides were at the end of disappointing results during their respective league fixtures, with West Bromwich Albion getting the better of Roberto di Matteo's team while Lazio came away with a point from Turin. Changes in personnel were made by both sides keeping in mind the crucial mid-week fixture and has seen loads of talking points crop up ahead of this game.
CHELSEA NEED ASHLEY COLE, NOW MORE THAN EVER
When Roman Abramovich's dream of seeing the Champions League in his trophy cabinet was realised, he expressed a desire to see more free flowing football, on the lines of Barcelona, and not more of the backs-to-the-wall type performances that had seen Chelsea edge out Barcelona and Bayern Munich on their way to the European crown.
This ambition alongwith their reluctance to hand players over 30 a long-term contract saw established stars like Didier Drogba and Jose Bosingwa leaving the club and raised the questions over the future of existing old-timers like Ashley Cole, John Terry and Frank Lampard with the club hoping to adapt to life without three of Chelsea's greatest servants.
Ryan Bertrand was seen as someone who would fit in the mould of Ashley Cole in the Chelsea ranks. Pace down the left flank, an ability to defend and also put in some teasing crosses. In addition, he was one of the very few players who had made it to the Chelsea first-team through the ranks of the Chelsea Academy, the only others being John Terry and Josh McEachran which piled a lot of pressure to perform on the England youngster.
|Bertrand is not yet ready to replace Ashley Cole|
Chelsea's new style of football where the full-backs are the only sources of width needs the likes of Ashley Cole/Ryan Bertrand or Branislav Ivanovic/Cesar Azpilicueta needing to bomb forward when they can and track back to help out defensively. While the right side of defence has been supposedly quite stable, the same cannot be said for the other side.
Bertrand was left wanting in the games against Shakhtar and West Bromwich Albion where the opposition wingers got the better of him on more than one occasion. In fact West Brom's second goal that saw Shane Long cross from the right to set up Peter Odemwingie's header was a testament to the fact that Bertrand has a lot of work to do, if he has to step into the huge boots of his illustrious counterpart.
In addition, Cole's workrate is almost second to none in the Chelsea team. Chelsea's expensive array of attacking talent has the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata, who are simply a joy to watch when on the attack, but are also reluctant to track back to help out in defence.
In last season's Champions League final, di Matteo preferred to start with Bertrand on the left and Kalou on the right to protect his full-backs against the marauding pace of Robben and Ribery. The ploy worked to Chelsea's advantage. However this season they do not enjoy the same luxury as neither Oscar, Mata or Hazard track back to cover the runs of the opposition full-backs and wingers which leaves an enormous amount to do for Cole and Ivanovic when they go up against Juventus' pacy wing-backs in Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah.
DANIEL STURRIDGE AND FABIO QUAGLIARELLA NEED TO START
Sturridge has found opportunities hard to come by under Roberto di Matteo. The former Manchester City man had to warm the bench for quite some time as Chelsea attempted to help Torres regain his form of old. Though Torres' form has been vacillating between the poor and dreadful as a striker, Sturridge has not been given the number of opportunities he warrants.
Against West Brom though, the Italian coach finally saw the benefits of playing Sturridge as a central striker, after the England international moved to that position, once an ineffective Torres was substituted. Second half substitute Juan Mata kept probing the West Brom defence with his sublime array of passes and delightful chips.
The difference that Sturridge as a central striker made was that he ran along all the right channels to help create chances, something that Torres didn't do. Almost all of Mata's attempts to cause havoc against Steve Clarke's side were aimed at Sturridge who certainly added more bite to Chelsea's attack as compared to Torres who was near anonymous till he was hauled off.
|Quagliarella must start for the Old Lady|
The lack of a recognised 'Number 9' for Juventus has seen their midfield score 13 of the 37 goals that the Turin club have scored domestically and in Europe this season. The likes of Alessandro Matri, Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco have flattered to deceive for the Bianconeri. Meanwhile Fabio Quagliarella has scored 8 goals in 13 appearances for the Old Lady. In the game against Lazio, Quagliarella was providing a threat to the Biancocelesti backline and was working in tandem with Sebastian Giovinco who had one of his better games.
The Chelsea defence sans John Terry look a shadow of the side that was renowned for its defensive stability. After David Luiz added to his list of error-prone performances, di Matteo will no doubt be looking to start with Ivanovic and Cahill who are far more assured in defence. But that in no way erases the threat that Quagliarella and Giovinco could bring to the party.
PAUL POGBA IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR ANDREA PIRLO
When Juventus snapped up Andrea Pirlo for free from AC Milan in 2011, it was a move that materalised with its fair amount of skepticism, as Pirlo was 32-years old and supposedly his powers were on the wane. What followed was the best way for a footballer to answer his critics, by portraying his talent on the pitch.
The former Internazionale youth product started 41 games for the Old Lady, scoring 3 goals and helped set up 13 of them. Juventus restructured their formation to allow the former Brescia man the space he needs to thrive on the pitch. With ball winners Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal operating in front of him, Pirlo dictated and continues to dictate the play from a deeper position.
|Irreplacable for Juventus: Andrea Pirlo|
Paul Pogba was selected to start in Pirlo's position during the Lazio game to afford the veteran some much needed rest after the international friendly against France. Juventus did create their fair share of chances, but they lacked the distribution and calmness in possession that Pirlo brings to the Juventus side. The former Milan man has started 16 of the 17 games Juventus have played in Serie A and in Europe, scoring three goals and racking up five assists to boot. Manchester United had used Park ji-Sung to track Pirlo during Manchester United's Round of 16 game against AC Milan during the 2008-09 season and thereby nullified his influence in the game. Chelsea attempted something similar this season using Oscar in the first leg at Stamford Bridge. The Londoners will have to employ that tactic again or else the former Milan man will single-handedly take the game away from the European champions.
IVANOVIC AND CAHILL SHOULD START AS CENTRE-BACKS
John Terry has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, but Chelsea's Captain Fantastic continues to put in one strong performance after another, oblivious to all the stick he gets from the media and crowds around England. When he did start against Liverpool, he nullified the threat of Luis Suarez with his positioning and kept the defence organized. Chelsea then lost their captain to injury during the game, and late into the second half, the defence sans Terry was culpable for Liverpool's equaliser.
David Luiz is a hit with the Chelsea fans thanks to his interaction with them through social-media site Twitter and his driving runs through the midfield are a treat to watch. But defensively he does not bring a level of assurance to this Chelsea team. No one can predict which version of David Luiz would turn up on the pitch, the one that was a rock when Chelsea faced Benfica last season, or the error-prone side that reared itself against West Brom.
|Ivanovic must be in the centre of Chelsea's defence|
Branislav Ivanovic is by-trade a centre-half but was used primarily as a wing-back till date. Whenever he has started in the centre of defence he brings qualities like tough-tackling, impressive reading of the game and an aerial threat during set-pieces. This along with Gary Cahill's ability to bring the ball out of defence are Chelsea's best chance of keeping out Juventus' frontline of Giovinco and Quagliarella/Vucinic.
BUFFON & CECH - A TEST FOR 2 OF THE WORLD'S BEST KEEPERS
Chelsea and Juventus have goalkeepers whom fans are used to seeing on their sides' teamsheets. Petr Cech and Gianluigi Buffon have already established themselves as two of the world's best goalkeepers. Both are mainstays for club and country. They are equally good at distributing the ball, possess good reflexes and command their areas with aplomb.
In a game that both sides will need to win to stay alive in the Champions League, it is increasingly likely to be an open affair with plenty of work for the custodians. Chelsea will in all probability give Daniel Sturridge the nod ahead of the misfiring Fernando Torres while Quagliarella and Giovinco will be the ones looking to beat Cech, who shall line-up in-between the sticks for Chelsea. Both Cech and Buffon have been vulnerable this season with only four clean sheets in 16 appearances for their respective sides. But the two custodians have been part of the European scene long enough to know when to put their best game face on and will need all of their experience in order to help their side progress to the next round.
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