On Wednesday night, the group stages of the UEFA Champions League start with Chelsea welcoming a familiar foe to Stamford Bridge in FC Schalke 04. The Blues were drawn with the Germans in the group stages of last year’s competition and were able to dispatch of them quite easily on both occasions, winning 3-0 both at Stamford Bridge and at the Veltins-Arena.
However, both teams are in a much different place this time around. Last season, Schalke entered the match at the Veltins-Arena on a five-match unbeaten streak after meeting defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich while Chelsea were finding their feet under new manager Jose Mourinho and coming off the back of their first defeat of the season to Newcastle United at St. James Park.
This time, Schalke are in terrible form, having accumulated just 1 point from their first 3 Bundesliga matches, ironically in a draw to Bayern Munich, a loss to 3rd division Dynamo Dresden in the DFB-Pokal Cup, and are coming off a terrible 4-1 home defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach. Meanwhile, Chelsea enter this match unbeaten in their first four Premier League fixtures, with wins over Swansea City and Everton, and are displaying the type of performances that are reminiscent of the title-winning side of 2005-2006 that went unbeaten for their first 15 matches in all competitions.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho will have a full-strength side to choose from, with Didier Drogba having recovered from an ankle injury to be fit for selection if need be. This is an ominous omen given the start that two of Chelsea’s big signings have made to start the season. Diego Costa is showing the type of run that he displayed when fit at the start of last season with Atletico Madrid, scoring an amazing 7 goals in just 4 matches, including a hat-trick against Swansea this past Saturday. To add to that goal tally, Cesc Fabregas has settled in the side quite well, developing a good understanding with Costa, and contributing 6 assists of his own. However, Mourinho will be concerned with the goals his side has conceded. The best defence in the Premier League last season has conceded 6 goals in 4 matches this season having conceded just 27 for the whole of last season’s campaign.
Schalke manager Jens Keller only wishes that he had the same issues that his opposite number has at the moment. Keller has come under fire for Schalke’s terrible start to the season, but this is a side that’s been ravaged by injuries. This season, he’s been forced to field a patchwork back four, with Felipe Santana, Joel Matip, Atsuto Uchida missing significant time due to injuries, along with the absence Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in the early part of the season. To make matters worse, his captain, Benedikt Howedes is likely to miss Wednesday’s match with a hip problem, leaving him with just one first choice defender in his back line.
The bright side is that Huntelaar is once again fit for Schalke, and that should alleviate some of the problems they’ve had scoring so far this season. However, with a decimated back line and facing the best attack in the Premier League this season, it’s hard to see how Schalke can prevent Chelsea from once again replicating the two 3-0 defeats of last season, and it could be even worse.