Four years since their previous appearance in the last eight of the Champions League, Chelsea aim to overcome Stuttgart to extend their stay in the knockout stages. Following a 1-0 first leg win in Germany, the Blues only require a draw to progress.
Chelsea should be in peak condition for the clash having enjoyed a ten-day break since their somewhat fortuitous win at Manchester City and with their squad gradually recovering to its full compliment following several injuries.
Stuttgart meanwhile come in to the game on a torrent of criticism from the German press since the first leg defeat. Despite a relatively impressive performance in the defeat to Chelsea two weeks ago, VfB find themselves on a slippery slope both in European football and domestically where they have dropped to third having been top before Christmas. However a 2-0 win in Dortmund on Saturday should give them some much needed confidence ahead of this make or break clash.
Tuesday’s match up looks finely balanced on paper. There can be no doubt that the German outfit will look to be positive at Stamford Bridge. Away victories at Rangers and Panathinaikos helped them to qualify from Group E where they also gave Manchester United a stiff challenge at Old Trafford before going down 2-0. Meanwhile Chelsea have struggled at home in Europe this season. A lacklustre and disorganised performance saw them lose 2-0 nil to Besiktas, before earning a hard earned 2-1 win against Lazio and a frustrating draw when Sparta Prague were the visitors.
It appears that a lot will depend upon which Chelsea shows up on Tuesday night. Whilst their recent form has produced results, though in unconvincing fashion, it seems unlikely that Stuttgart will have the benefit of another Besiktas-like performance from the home side. Alternatively Claudio Ranieri’s team may produce the football that saw them defeat Lazio 4-0 in the Stadio Olimpico. What seems most likely however is the smothering, consistent nature of performance that the Chelsea faithful have reluctantly become accustomed to. Whilst Ranieri may have his critics for his football philosophy, this type of rigid and organised football has won the European Cup in previous years- most recently for AC Milan in lat year’s competition.
Chelsea at least, will enjoy a near-full squad to choose from ahead of this match. Damian Duff started a match for the first time in three months when he featured for the reserves in midweek. The Irish winger will hope to have regained enough fitness to reclaim his left wing berth, though he admits that his Achilles will cause him some discomfort for the rest of the season in any case. Carlo Cudicini should feature behind the ever-present pairing of John Terry and William Gallas and the Italian will hope to be able to do his own kicking having recovered from his recent groin injury. As ever the midfield is an area of some speculation regarding selection. It seems likely that Ranieri will favour Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele and then, providing that Duff starts, any one of Parker, Geremi, Gronkjaer or Joe Cole. Hernan Crespo and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will hope to start in attack although Ranieri must also consider that Adrian Mutu and Eidur Gudjohnsen are suspended from Chelsea’s next game away at Bolton and he may therefore choose to favour the pair in this game.
Chelsea can expect to encounter the same threats on Tuesday that they faced in Germany two weeks ago. The left sided duo of Alexander Hleb and Philip Lahm will look to trouble Glen Johnson once more, whilst Zvonimir Soldo will occupy the central holding midfield role. Kevin Kuranyi will lead the attack as ever and veteran Croatian Boris Zivkovic may be recalled to play in the centre of defence.