On Tuesday evening Chelsea host Valencia at Stamford Bridge for what both sides will undoubtedly consider their most important game of the season so far.
Usually we have to wait until February or March for the Champions League to get exciting, but not this year. With 20 minutes to go against Bayer Leverkusen, Andre Villas-Boas wasn’t exactly in a dreamland –Valencia still could have taken the group’s top spot if they won this, the final fixture – but by the end he was facing a potential nightmare – this club’s earliest exit from the competition ever and an embarrassing entry into the Europa League.
Even the most optimistic fan would have to say that it’s possible. Valencia are in red hot form. Over their past eight games the La Liga sidehave won seven and now sit only behind Real Madrid and Barcelona in their domestic league.
After a poor start in the Champions League, taking just two points from their first three games, Valencia have flung themselves back into the mix of things by convincingly beating both Leverkusen and Genk.
Comparatively, AVB’s men have won just three in their last eight, and after a comfortably start to Group E life – seven points from their opening three fixtures – have suffered two very disappointing away results against Genk and Leverkusen.
Despite ITV’s best attempts to confuse a simple concept, we all by now know the terms of success and failure. 0-0 draw or a win will see the Blues qualify for the Second Round, anything else and it’s the Europa League.
It seems very unlikely that Villas-Boas will play for the 0-0. His side’s defensive frailties have been well documented, and Valencia have not failed to score in 14 games, a run that stretches back to September.
How best to achieve this? Most likely by repeating the performance against Newcastle on Saturday lunchtime – same line-up, same attitude.
There may be some question marks over the inclusion of David Luiz and Oriel Romeu, but, for me, they should start.
Luiz, despite his controversial non-sending-off against Newcastle, is improving and is a player who can ignite players and fans alike on this type of evening.
Romeu, meanwhile, is inexperienced and not perfect but provides a great stability and, coming from Barcelona, will have a mentality suited to this type of game.
It’s not going to be easy, but let’s not forget that Chelsea are the top-seeded team in this group, have convincingly won their previous two home ties and have, at least, not lost to Valencia in the clubs’ previous five meetings. We’re nervous, but so are they.