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The Champions League holders begin the defence of their trophy at home to Juventus but much has changed at Stamford Bridge since their triumph over Bayern Munich in May

COMMENT
By Dan Levene

Four months to the day since the magical and miraculous in Munich, Chelsea return to Champions League action against Juventus on Wednesday night.

It is difficult to grasp the magnitude of relief and elation experienced by Chelsea fans at winning last year's Champions League, unless you were actually there. And by that I mean there for at least some of the nine campaigns in which it did not end in glory.

This was not a victory over 120 minutes plus penalties, but a victory over 13 years and countless near misses (some nearer than others).

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Four defeats at the semi-final stage and one in the final had led some to suggest that it might never happen for Chelsea.

And when it did happen, in the unlikeliest of all circumstances, it had a strange effect on Chelsea supporters. In fact only now is that elation starting to die-down.

As with the team itself, there was an older generation of supporter who kept on coming just on the basis of 'maybe one day'.

Now that day has come, some have decided it cannot be topped.

It is by no means an exodus, but I have spoken to those who have decided to put their passport back in the draw: seasoned European travellers who have, as modern playing parlance puts it, 'retired from international football'.

The draw handed to Chelsea this season has added to that: Turin and Copenhagen (where Nordsjaelland will play their games) are places the Blues have been in recent years. And Shakhtar Donetsk is too far, too much bother, or too expensive a trip for a lot of people.

When it comes to matters on the pitch, there is not massive optimism for Chelsea in Europe this season.
One of the phrases I heard most often in Munich the day after that final was: “Well we've done it now – that's never going to happen again, is it?”

The truly unbelievable nature of the victory itself (a caretaker manager, a terrible domestic season, and 'Unsere Stadt, Unser Stadion, Unser Pokal') contributed to that.

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Most people understand that, but for that utterly incredible night, things might have been very different: without the cash from this season's Champions League qualification, and new FFP hurdles being erected. So now there is a touch of black humour when it comes to this season's chances.

Roberto Di Matteo is starting to find that the honeymoon is over when it comes to both results, and fan reaction to them.

A sizeable minority of people are questioning his abilities. That has not yet led to any sort of revolt: all want him to succeed. But the crushing nature of the Super Cup defeat to Atletico Madrid will have caused more than a flesh wound to one or two of his nine lives.

And then there is the oft-repeated stat known to every schoolboy: no team has ever retained the Champions League. Not many Chelsea fans are booking their taxi to Wembley for next May's final just yet.

It is not all doom and gloom of course: it would be ridiculous to say that about a club which reached the highest point in its 107-year history just seven competitive matches back.

The signings of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Victor Moses have got people quite excited - notably Hazard, who looks like a fantastic buy.

But there are definite concerns about how successful a strategy it is to buy three attacking midfielders, when the squad does not seem to possess a dedicated holding midfielder, or a back-up striker or understudy  goalkeeper.
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As with the acquisition of Fernando Torres and David Luiz on the final day of the January 2011 transfer window, there is a belief that Roman Abramovich is committed to buying the best for the future.

However, as also shown by that cash splurge of 20 months back, there is a concern that those underneath Abramovich are not showing the world that they know what they are doing.

Four months on from Munich, Chelsea are a very different club with different players, different aspirations, and different concerns.

It would take a punter with very strong will to bet that he knows how Chelsea's involvement in the 2012-13 Champions League will play out.

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