Chelsea meet Slovenian champions Maribor in the first of a Champions League double header which will see the Blues all but qualify for the knockout phase before the ‘winter break’.
Maribor, albeit very inexperienced at this level, have not lost in nine Champions League games and overcame Celtic in qualifying. They have drawn their two group games this campaign with credible results against both Sporting Lisbon and Schalke. That said Maribor are ‘struggling’ in their domestic league, lying third, after a weekend defeat at home to Celje. Maribor will line up 4-4-2 and after promised to attack the hosts with danger man Luka Zahovic leading the attack.
Chelsea will not underestimate the threat of the Slovenians and Mourinho will ensure that we are right up for the challenge. John Terry will play his 101st Champions League tie whilst the visitors have 25 appearances between them! If, as promised, Maribor do attack Chelsea then we could see a hat full of goals for the home side. Matic and Fabregas will control the centre of the pitch allowing Hazard, Oscar and Willian to attack at will. The absence of Diego Costa will not be a major blow with Loic Remy deputising. I expect Didier Drogba to make a cameo, off the bench, and he could be in the goals for the first time since his summer return to Stamford Bridge.
It was interesting to see Pat Nevin’s analysis of Chelsea’s weekend victory at Crystal Palace. The second goal in particular was Barcelona esque with superb tika taka interplay between Fabregas, Hazard and Oscar. This is symptomatic of Mourinho’s desire for the offensive players to express themselves freely in the final third.
Chelsea travel to Old Trafford on Sunday in fine form. The ‘happy one’ will not allow his full-backs to leave JT and Cahill as exposed as they were at Palace and will demand a more compact defensive display and will rely on the attacking threat to terrorise United’s defensive fragilities’.
So predictions for tonight : Chelsea to win 3-0 with Drogba to score and the blues to follow this up with a hard fought 2-1 win in Manchester on Sunday.
On another note I have just returned from two weeks in Mexico and the only English shirts on view were Chelsea one’s worn by local Mexican kids. Oh how times have changed!