Do you enjoy holding your hand inside the heart of a roaring fire for a prolonged period of time? Or walking across a carpet of broken glass whilst shoeless? Or even just taking a screwdriver to one of your eyeballs, inflicting pain and suffering upon your person for no good reason? If your answer to any of these hypothetical situations is a resounding yes, then you may also enjoy the footballing equivalent to torture, or as it is more commonly known, the UEFA Champions League, which is back for another season of torment.
Europe’s elite competition kicks off again, with promises of depression, anxiety and anger certain to follow. It’s not that it isn’t sometimes enjoyable – wins over Liverpool are a bonus, meeting Barcelona was fun the first couple of times, um…free flags? – but recent events have soured our relationship with not only UEFA, but the competition in itself. If May rolls around and we have been knocked out by a fluky goal – I’m thinking a last-minute 40-yard looping header by an obscure Scandinavian official – then I’m going for the other eye.
Nevertheless, we embark on the road to Disconsolate Town, stopping in Nicosia, Cyprus; Madrid, Spain; and Porto, Portugal. As well as these far-flung trips, we thrust open our doors to these sides, inviting in the demons so to speak, beginning with the latter team on Tuesday evening.
FC Porto make the trip to Stamford Bridge for the third time in three years, having clinched their almost customary place in the competition after winning the Liga Sagres for the fourth year running. Although they do not have what can be described as a world-beating squad, they do have a few recognisable names, including the Brazilian striker Hulk. With our Brazilian-born players having boring names like Alex, Deco and Juliano Belletti, if it ever came down to a fancy-moniker tie-breaker, we’d lose hands down. Let’s just hope that UEFA haven’t come up with that idea yet.
Porto currently sit top of their domestic league with three wins and one draw from their first four games, scoring eleven goals in the process. New signing Falcao – a Colombian forward signed from River Plate in the summer – leads their scoring charts with four goals in four games.
With Carlo Ancelotti determined to rotate the squad so far this season, our side is becoming hard to predict, even for Derren Brown. But there are two players who will definitely miss out, having been made an example of by the tyrannical UEFA decision-makers, as both Didier Drogba and José Bosingwa picked up bans for their parts in the aftermath of the Barcelona draw last season. Just don’t ask Drogba what he thinks of it all.
There is also a fitness doubt over centre-back Alex, while Yuri Zhirkov, Joe Cole and Paulo Ferreira are also likely to miss out. Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, Deco, Bosingwa and Hilario have all previously been on the books at Porto at one time or another.
The last time we played Porto was in the 2006/07 season, which, as usual, ended in bitter disappointment as we bowed out in the semi-finals against Liverpool on penalties.
We met the Portuguese giants in the first knockout round, where, after drawing 1-1 away from home, we fell behind to a Ricardo Quaresma – who? – opener at the Bridge. Some say it was the biggest impression he ever made during a Chelsea match. Nevertheless, the Blues battled back through Arjen Robben and Michael Ballack to win the tie 3-2 on aggregate.
The referee for this game is Mr Konrad Plautz, described by UEFA’s official press pack as ‘an enthusiastic director and actor with a local theatre group.’ Mr Plautz, if you are looking for drama, you have come to the right place.
Although Porto are not perhaps the force they once were under our mutual ‘special one’, they will nonetheless put up a fight. After a tough battle against Stoke City on Saturday there may be some tired legs in our ranks, which promotes Ancelotti’s policy of rotation. There will be changes to the side which bagged all three points at the Britannia, and with any luck we won’t have to wait until the last minute of injury time to net a winner this time around.
So the Champions League is back once again. Here comes the pain.