After surprising many last season when they managed to win the league on the final day leaving behind the traditional powerhouses FC Kobenhavn, the club earned itself an automatic place in the Champions League group stages.
When the groups were drawn many would have considered FC Nordsjaelland to be mere pushovers, but there is a lot to this unfamiliar Danish side and why Chelsea cannot afford to take this game lightly.
After letting go a two-goal lead against Italian champions Juventus, Chelsea find themselves third in the Group with Shakhtar Donetsk acting as the pace setters in the group so far. Although it may seem too be a bit to early but anything less than a win against the Danish side could leave the Blues with something to worry about.
|STAT ATTACK||Including the victory over Bayern Munich in last season's final, Chelsea have drawn their last three games in this competition after 90 minutes.|
The Nodsjaelland squad is led by Kasper Hjulmand (40) who became the first Danish manager in the Champions League on Matchday 1. Hjulmand's braand of football is close to the lines of what Pep Guardiola advocated at Barcelona. The plan is to keep the possession and when they lose possession the players press high up the pitch (no wonder they are called the Danish Barcelona). Formerly an assistant coach with the Wild Tigers, Hjulmand was promoted as first team manager after former coach Weighorst was handed over the mantle of the Danish U-21 side.
FC Nordsjaelland play a 4-2-3-1 formation similar to what Chelsea have been playing for the past couple of months. Hjulmand plays a game based on possession and fluidity, something Chelsea are trying to get used to now. Against Shakhtar, he maintained his traditional 4-2-3-1 but still lost 2-0 thanks to two good counter attacks.
Chelsea have spent big and spent wisely in this season's transfer window signing the likes of Oscar, Hazard who have had an instant impact with the side. But there are still chinks in the armour which Roberto Di Matteo has to ponder upon. Di Matteo started off this season with Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel in the double pivot role something which hasn't clicked for Chelsea as yet. Although they did manage to grind out results against the likes of Wigan and Reading, the double pivot failed miserably against Atletico Madrid when Falcao and co simply tormented the Chelsea side. Although they were decent against Juventus it was due to Mikel's mistake (partially) that led to the Juventus equalizer. This may be one of the key areas for Nordsjaelland to exploit who themselves play a double pivot of Kofi Adu and captain Nicolai Stockholm.
Adu is a young talented footballer who thrives upon his excellent passing range and occasional runs forward. Alongside Adu is captain Stockholm, who is the heartbeat of this Danish side and it is his influence that this team feeds on. His strong showing in the previous season helped him get a call up from the Danish side for the first time in 6 years.
Coming back to Chelsea, they play Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata behind the lone striker Torres and that leaves the Blues susceptible to counterattacks when initiated by the opposition full-backs. The reason being the trio fail to track back to help out their defence as that's not their natural instinct as a player. To add to it, if Chelsea do start with Lampard and Mikel in the middle, given that the former isn't a defensive midfielder per se, the reigning European champions would in that case leave their defence open for the opposition to exploit.
|Chelsea's rivals in Group E|
Nordsjaelland naturally play a high line of defence which could result in open spaces for Torres, something which Hjulmand needs to address.
Chelsea know that anything other than a win in this fixture could be a killer blow for their quest to retain the Champions League title and with group pace setters Shakhtar up next at the Donbass Arena, things don't get any easier for Chelsea. Last season Chelsea were reasonably poor away from home although they did manage the amazing comeback against Barcelona. Chelsea managed just 1 win in their 6 away fixtures last season, drawing thrice and losing twice.
All in all, this could be more than just a one sided affair. Nordsjaelland style of play and Hjulmand stubbornness to continue playing the "Barcelona style football" could work in their favour or go against them; precisely why Di Matteo's side need not taken them lightly.
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