THE ROAD TO ROME STARTS HERE

By Rowan Farnham-Long
Sep 16th, 2008

Following the “clash of the cash” win over Man City on Saturday comes another money-spinning game which brings the start of the 2008/09 Champions League tournament. Chelsea – the number one side in Europe according to UEFA’s ranking system – host Bordeaux in the opener, with Roma welcoming Romanian side CFR Cluj in the other game of Group A. It is a chance for the Blues to banish the demons of Moscow last May, and kick-start another Champions League challenge, with the prospect of the final in Rome next year the ultimate goal.The 3-1 win over City was the ideal way to start up again after an international break, and the way the Blues played was as impressive as the final score. John Terry’s late red card was the only blot on the copybook, but he will be available for the upcoming Bordeaux game as his looming suspension only applies to domestic games. One player who will be in the stands is Didier Drogba, who misses out after his slap in the final landed him a ban.

Michael Essien is now rumoured to be out for nine months, missing the entire season, but with John Mikel Obi putting in another solid shift against City he could be key to our honours trail both domestically and European. Joe Cole managed 70 minutes on Saturday wearing a bandage over his head wound and should start again on Tuesday, while Michael Ballack could return after three weeks out with an ankle injury.

Least season’s Ligue 1 runners-up Bordeaux are managed by French legend Laurent Blanc, and made their bow in Europe’s premier competition in 1984, when they reached the Semi-Finals before losing to Juventus. They have made a mixed start to the season, winning two home games and losing two away matches before they drew at home against Marseille on Saturday.

Premier League fans may recognise the names of David Bellion, who played for Sunderland, Manchester United, West Ham, and Souleymane Diawara who made over 20 appearances for Charlton in their relegation season of 2006/07. Other recognisable names in Bordeaux’s squad include Argentinean left-back Diego Placente, holding midfielder Alou Diarra (who was on Liverpool’s books a few years ago but failed to make a single appearance for them), and the similarly named and highly rated pair Yoan Gouffran and Yoann Gourcuff, with the latter on loan from AC Milan. Their top scorer is Argentinean striker Fernando Cavenaghi.

Google’s translation service provides this news from Bordeaux’s official site: “The technical staff Bordeaux delivered a group of 19 players for the trip to London. Saunier (left adductor injury), Jussiê (injury hamstrings left), Saivet (5th metatarsus fracture) are all injured. Matthieu Chalmé and Benoît Trémoulinas are suspended for this meeting.”

With Chelsea’s remarkable home form and Bordeaux’s below-par away form so far this season, the result on paper looks a near-formality. Scolari makes his Champions League debut and will want to start with a win, especially considering that after this stage last season and a disappointing 1-1 draw with Rosenborg, Blues’ boss Jose Mourinho bit the bullet. How itchy is Roman’s trigger finger these days?

The road to Rome starts at the Bridge on Tuesday, kick-off is 7:45PM.

Prediction: A 2-0 win hopefully a sign of things to come in this year’s Champions League.

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