Having touched down in Turkey on Monday evening amid the usual scare stories and hostilities, the Blues will be looking to boss Fenerbahce on the pitch when the two sides meet on Wednesday night in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals.
An intimidating atmosphere will greet Avram Grant’s side in the Sükrü Saracoglu Stadium, but with the prospect of a valuable away goal very likely, Chelsea will have to ignore the cat-calls and the flares and do a professional job on the Turkish champions. Having successfully negotiated a two-legged tie against Olympiakos in the last round, the Blues will be looking to do it all again this time around, and will be boosted by the return from illness from Frank Lampard.
At times during Sunday’s drab 1-0 win over Middlesbrough, Chelsea were crying out for his creativity, and he will be hoping to add a spark to the midfield on Wednesday. However, Petr Cech isn’t expected to make the starting XI due to an ankle injury, meaning Carlo Cudicini should deputise once again as Chelsea look to preserve the best defensive record in this year’s competition. Michael Essien is a booking away from a suspension meanwhile.
Fenerbahce may be considered one of the outsiders for this season’s tournament, however they boast an unbeaten record of 11 games at home in European competition which may give them an advantage ahead of this fixture. However, we know all about unbeaten home records so maybe we know how to destroy them as well! Zico’s Turkish side have made it through to this stage by finishing as runners-up in a group including Inter Milan, PSV Eindhoven and CSKA Moscow, and then shocking Spanish side Sevilla in the last round, beating them on penalties after a thrilling 5-5 aggregate score.
They boast some big names including Roberto Carlos, Stephen Appiah, and Mateja Kezman-the ex-Blue who could line up opposite ex-Fenerbahce striker Nicolas Anelka. Oh, and er…Colin Kazim-Richards, the former Bury, Brighton, and Sheffield United striker. With such an impressive home record added to the cauldron of noise the Fenerbahce fans will treat the Blues to, this is not a side to be underestimated. However, we are unbeaten ourselves in this year’s competition and supposedly have realistic Champions League winning credentials.
A decent first-leg showing will set us up nicely for the Stamford Bridge tie next Tuesday, and of course it will prevent the inevitable “Avram’s Turkeys” headlines if Fenerbahce were to bag a win. We have shown we can cope in “Hell” before, with that brilliant 5-0 win at Galatasaray back in September 1999. If we play anything like that on Wednesday, I’ll even welcome the “Turkish Delight” headlines! A draw seems the most likely result however, and with Fenerbahce sitting top of the Turkish side at the moment, they will not let us dish out a stuffing (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Prediction: Hopefully the Middlesbrough game was played at about 20% of our ability for a reason, and we were saving legs for this game. Expect improvement, coherence, and cohesion, but a tight 1-0 win to give us the upper hand for the second leg next week. Maybe Moscow isn’t so far for us after all.