It’s Matchday 4 in the UEFA Champions League, and that means a precursor to the two-legged ties in the Knockout stages, as Chelsea take on NKMaribor in the return fixture from Matchday 3, only this time in Slovenia at Stadion Ljudski vrt.
In the first meeting at Stamford Bridge, the Blues ran out 6-0 winners in what could only be described as this team playing as close to the perfect match as they all season. Maribor weren’t necessarily a bad side, but they were made to look bad against a side that couldn’t live with the sharp passing and movement of their opposition. However, did pose a bit of a threat going forward through Agim Ibraimi and Marcos Tavares, but couldn’t quite find their way through. However, Maribor could have pulled a goal back from the penalty spot, but Ibraimi hit the post, summing up their night perfectly.
Going into this meeting, Jose Mourinho will be looking for a response from his side, particularly considering the sluggish performance last weekend in a 2-1 win over QPR and the impending trip to Anfield on Saturday. Don’t expect Mourinho to treat this match as a chance to rotate the squad, especially given his unhappiness over that win on the weekend. However, he will be aware that Diego Costa is just returning from injury and he doesn’t have the services of Loic Remy or John Mikel Obi and may opt for one or two changes from the lineup on Saturday. Mourinho will also be aware that victory in Slovenia will put them on 10 points, all but securing their qualification for the Knockout stages. Depending on other results, it could also see the Blues end up in the driver’s seat to win the group, thus avoiding the prospect of facing another big team in the Round of 16.
For Maribor, because they’re sitting on 2 points in the group, concern over their league form may just take precedence over success in the Champions League. Right now, after a 1-0 defeat at the weekend, Maribor are 9 points back of the top of the table in their domestic league and most likely consider the Champions League to be a bit of a bonus. However, as the team in the group considered to be the minnows, they have earned draws at home to Sporting CP and couldn’t quite hold of Schalke’s comeback in Gelsenkirchen in a draw. But Chelsea are a different animal, and that was proved in the first meeting. Expect them to be up for this match against their home fans and for them to make life difficult for the Premier League leaders, as they’ll want to collect a big scalp as a trophy from this Champions League campaign.