Kick-Off: Wednesday February 25, 2009, 19.45, Stamford Bridge, London
The ‘Tinkerman’ Returns
Claudio Ranieri brings his Juventus side to Chelsea where he is likely to receive a warm welcome from the Stamford Bridge faithful.
The Italian spent almost four years as Blues boss and although he failed to secure a trophy during his tenure, his exploits at the club are not forgotten and indeed his legacy remains.
The Juventus boss brought William Gallas, Emmanuel Petit, Damien Duff and Claude Makelele to Chelsea, as well as Petr Cech, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole – all players who remain vital members of the squad.
Under the Italian the Blues were runners-up in the Premier League and made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League. However, this was not enough for owner Roman Abramovich, who replaced him with Jose Mourinho.
Of course the last time Ranieri left the Stamford Bridge pitch, aware that his time at the club was over, he was famously in tears and he will surely be hoping that is not the case again on Wednesday night.
The Hiddink Factor
Guus Hiddink is the latest to be handed the Chelsea hotseat, a man who has already won the Champions League, with PSV Eindhoven in 1988.
Under his stewardship the Blues returned to form at the weekend with a crucial 1-0 win over Aston Villa in the Premier League.
Whilst the west Londoners have looked inconsistent this season, particularly at home, there were signs against Villa that they could be on the verge of returning to their previous formidable best.
Certainly they will need to be at the top of their game to defeat Juventus, especially as they have already toiled against Italian opposition in the competition.
Drawn with Roma in the group stages, Chelsea were well-beaten on Italian soil, losing 3-1 in the capital. However, they did manage a 1-0 win at home against Luciano Spalletti’s men.
After a brief hiatus of two seasons, Juventus are enjoying life back in the Champions League.
Real Madrid were beaten home and away in the group stages as the ‘Old Lady’ topped her group, conceding only three goals along the way.
Alessandro Del Piero and Amauri were the star men in the group stages and despite David Trezeguet’s return to fitness both are expected to start at Stamford Bridge.
Ranieri’s men warmed up for the game against Chelsea at the weekend with a 2-0 win over Palermo, a result that keeps them in second place in Serie A, albeit nine points behind leaders Inter.
Yet whilst the group stages were negotiated comfortably, Juve will head to London with some trepidation.
The Italians have been knocked out of the competition by English opposition in their last two Champions League campaigns, by Arsenal in 2005/06 and Liverpool in 2004/05, and will be hoping Chelsea do not complete an unwanted hat-trick.
Juve’s away record in the competition is also far from impressive. Whilst they won at the Bernabeu earlier this season, they only drew at both BATE and Zenit St Petersburg and have won a mere eight of their last 40 Champions League games on the road.
The Bianconeri ‘s record against English opposition also makes for grim reading. The Turin side have failed to win any of their last seven Champions League meetings against Anglo opponents, and worryingly have lost on six of their last seven visits to the country.
Last Five Results
Feb 21: Aston Villa 0-1 Chelsea
Feb 14: Watford 1-3 Chelsea
Feb 07: Chelsea 0-0 Hull City
Feb 01: Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea
Jan 28: Chelsea 2-0 Middlesbrough
Feb 21: Palermo 0-2 Juventus
Feb 15: Juventus 1-1 Sampdoria
Feb 08: Catania 1-2 Juventus
Jan 31: Juventus 2-3 Cagliari
Jan 28: Udinese 2-1 Juventus
Chelsea have no new injury problems but welcome Ashley Cole back from a domestic suspension.
Ricardo Carvalho is close to fitness but it unlikely to be risked; therefore Alex should continue to partner John Terry at the back.
Possible starting XI: Cech, Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, A Cole, Mikel, Ballack, Lampard, Kalou, Anelka, Drogba.
David Trezeguet is fit and firing again but Ranieri may decide to stick with Amauri and Alessandro Del Piero up front, leaving the Frenchman to start on the bench.
Jonathan Zebina, Dario Knezevic, Paolo De Ceglie, Cristiano Zanetti are all out but Georgio Chiellini is fit and should feature after making a successful return against Palermo at the weekend.
Possible Starting XI: Buffon, Grygera, Chiellini, Mellberg, Molinaro, Camoranesi, Tiago, Sissoko, Nedved, Del Piero, Amauri.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Chelsea – Nicolas Anelka
Nicolas Anelka is the leading scorer in the Premier League this season and was the matchwinner again for the Blues on Saturday.
A sumptuous finish against Aston Villa was Anelka at his instinctive best and with chances likely to be few and far between on Wednesday, he could be the man to make the difference.
Juventus – Amauri
Whilst David Trezeguet’s return to fitness gives Ranieri something of a headache with regard to his striking options, Amauri is expected to play.
Indeed Trezeguet even took time out this week to describe his team-mate as the “best striker in Serie A,” and against a Blues defence weakened by the loss of Ricardo Carvalho, Juve will look to Amauri to find what could be a vital away goal.
A wealth of experience will be on view at Stamford Bridge in what looks to be a very tight affair.
Hiddink’s arrival appears to have rejuvenated a Chelsea side stagnating under Luiz Felipe Scolari, and they will approach the game with growing confidence.
However, Juve will fancy ending a poor run on English soil at Stamford Bridge, a ground where the Blues have struggled at times domestically this season, and they may just take a positive result back to Turin.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Juventus
Gill Clark, Goal.com
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