Chelsea go from one strange, foreign land to another following the 2-0 win at Stoke over the weekend, with a trip to Romanian champions CFR Cluj. Cluj shocked the world and brought some entertainment to the usually stale group stages of the Champions League by taking three points from Roma in the Stadio Olimpico on Matchday One, and with most Blues’ fans knowledge of Romania stopping short at Dan Petrescu, they are certainly an unknown quantity.Having breezed past Bordeaux 4-0 at Stamford Bridge a couple of weeks ago to kick-start our own Champions League campaign, the Dr. Constantin Rădulescu Stadium is the next stop on our European tour.
Up until a few years ago, Cluj had only ever won the smile-inducing Transylvanian Championship back in the 1910/11 season, but last year’s league and cup double put Cluj on the map with the win in Rome the icing on the cake. Largely down to a wealthy benefactor, Cluj are enjoying their success (sound familiar?) under the ownership of Arpad Paszkany, but this season they have struggled in the league and currently sit seven points behind Liga 1 leaders Steaua Bucharest, former team of that man again, Dan Petrescu.
Although their squad doesn’t boast star names or even recognisable players, Argentinean Juan Emmanuel Culio scored a brace in the Roma game, while Burkina Faso striker Yssouf Koné was part of the Rosenborg side which held the Blues to a draw in the opening game of last season’s group stage. Winger Ciprian Deac, who wears number 77, was named in the provisional squad for Romania prior to Euro 2008, but missed out on the final cut.
Chelsea made it out of Stoke alive, and with another three points and will look to take another win away from Romania on Wednesday. Luis Felipe Scolari is still unable to call on Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Essien, with all three injured, but Didier Drogba completed a one game European suspension against Bordeaux and is back in contention for a place in the starting XI.
Joe Cole missed the Stoke game with a slight knock, and there are question marks over his fitness and availability for this game. The trouncing of the abysmal French side was executed by a formidable Chelsea line-up, and there is nothing to suggest that we won’t see our strongest available side take the field in Romania on Wednesday.
Chelsea have never played Romanian opposition in European competition so there is no precedent or previous results to draw upon, however the win over Bordeaux should have set us in good stead and ready to take on all comers. It is important that we treat Cluj with respect, Roma can testify to that, and remember that they are the holders of the Romanian Championship and will be looking to further impress on their own turf. If we don’t get a result, the usual tabloid headlines featuring Transylvania, Dracula and the like will undoubtedly crop up, and let’s face it, no-one wants to see that!
Prediction: Well, Cluj beat Roma, could they repeat their giant-killing and go all the way to an unthinkable re-appearance in the Stadio Olimpico in May? Um… I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one. Although they did record that now famous result, I think we should stop their 100% record in the Champions League (!) and come away with a 2-0 win.
CFR Cluj take on Chelsea on Wednesday 1st October at the Dr. Constantin Rădulescu Stadium, with kick-off at 1945 GMT.