Chelsea face their biggest test on tonight when they welcome Shakhtar Donetsk for the return match at Stamford Bridge in the 4th group stage match of the Champions League. Just two weeks ago, the Blues endured a tough trip to Donetsk and the Donbass Arena and suffered a defeat to the Ukranian side. The defeat leaves Chelsea in 2nd place in Group E with 4 points and allowed Shakhtar to top the group with 7 points.
It leaves the Blues in the unenviable position of needing to beat Shakhtar at home, otherwise, the Blues will have to go to Turin knowing that they must win their last two matches just to qualify out of the group.
Two weeks ago, Chelsea were outplayed by a Shakhtar side that showed more fluidity and a great team chemistry, which shouldn’t come as a surprise (if you follow football news outside England) given that they’ve been together for the better part of two years. On that night, the Blues showed their relative inexperience as a unit, as Shakhtar were capable of attacking time and again.
Shakhtar also have had the benefit of extra rest time for their star players, as manager Mircea Lucescu rested basically their entire first 11 at the weekend, as Shakhtar have the luxury of a 12-point lead after 14 matches in the Ukranian Premier League. From the first match, the biggest concerns will be the playmaking ability of Willian, and the attacking ability of the Shakhtar fullbacks Razvan Rat and Darijo Srna.
On the other side, Chelsea have a few injury concerns going into this match along with some form issues. David Luiz and Juan Mata missed the 1-1 draw against Swansea on Saturday with injuries, and both will have to pass fitness tests ahead of the match. Ashley Cole has picked up a hamstring strain, in addition to the lingering ankle problem and has been declared out. John Terry will be welcomed back, as he’s able to play in Europe and his four-match domestic ban has finished.
Those aren’t the only issues that the Blues face. Chelsea have mustered just one win since that loss to Shakhtar, beating Manchester United in the Capital One Cup 5-4, but have lost to United in the league and conceded a late equaliser to Pablo Hernandez and Swansea at the weekend.
In addition, Roberto Di Matteo must work out how it was that Shakhtar were able to essentially outplay them for long stretches in their first meeting, but to be fair to Chelsea, few teams go to the Ukraine and get all three points.
It’s another key match for this evolving squad, with a visit from Liverpool looming on Sunday. However, if Chelsea do not get a win from this match against Shakhtar, it will make it incredibly difficult to qualify from this group.