After a somewhat turbulent flight and plenty of circling over a freezing Athens runway, Chelsea will be looking to get back down on the straight and narrow against Olympiakos this Tuesday night, as the Champions League kicks off again. The knock-out stages are upon us, and with the Blues desperate to show some European credentials, the journey to greatness starts in Greece, the country in which Liverpool (remember when they were good?) lost last year’s final against AC Milan. Avram Grant will be looking to take his side one step further this season.If he does make it to Moscow, at least his side will have experience of sub-zero temperatures. Snow-fall in Greece led to the postponing of many Greek SuperLiga games over the weekend, although Olympiakos did manage to get through their game against Ergotelis, winning 1-0 on Saturday.
Chelsea were also weekend winners, beating Huddersfield Town 3-1 in the FA Cup. A surprise inclusion in the starting line-up was John Terry, returning from a broken foot well ahead of schedule. He could feature again in Greece, along with the fit again Frank Lampard, scorer of two goals against the Terriers. It is in fact a near full-strength side available for Avram Grant to choose from, with only Andriy Shevchenko staying home as he continues to work towards full fitness, and Steve Sidwell and Claudio Pizarro ineligible for Champions League action after they were both removed from the squad to make way for Michael Ballack and Nicolas Anelka. Michael Essien is one booking away from suspension.
Opponents Olympiakos have progressed to the knock-out stage for the first time in nine years and currently sit top of the league in Greece, just one point ahead of Panathanaikos. They have a familiar name in their ranks for any English League followers, with former Colchester United, Portsmouth and Newcastle United striker Lomana Tresor Lua Lua now wearing the red and white of the Greek giants. He is currently struggling with injury but may make it back for the visit of Chelsea. Other big names include veteran ‘keeper Antonios Nikopolidis, former Leeds United defenders Raul Bravo and Didier Domi, Serbian midfielder Predrag Djordjevic and fellow countryman Darko Kovacevic, the ex-Sheffield Wednesday striker who has been prolific this season, bagging 18 goals in just 25 appearances so far.
Olympiakos are widely regarded as the most successful team in Greece, and one Greek I have spoken to has likened them to Manchester United; hated by the rest of the country! They made it to the knock-outs by finishing second in a group which contained Lazio, Werder Bremen, and group winners Real Madrid. They are not to be taken lightly despite our own good performances so far, and many fans believe a draw would be a good result for the Blues.
After the win on Saturday, this game is sandwiched between cup competitions, with Tottenham looming ahead in the Carling Cup final on Sunday at our second home, Wembley. With Grant facing a managerial head-ache as a full-strength squad emerges day by day, it will be very interesting to see who he picks in the starting XI. Will John Terry continue his messiah-like revival to take the field? Can Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard play together? Will Anelka partner Didier Drogba up-front? And where will all our midfielders actually play? Answers available on Tuesday night, as the Champions League takes over again.
Prediction: Although a draw would be an alright result, I’m going for a win as usual! What use is a pessimist on a fan site!? A tight 1-0 win to take back to the Bridge in a couple of weeks time.