The champions of England and France meet at Stamford Bridge tomorrow in matchday 2 of the Champions League. Didier Deschamps brings his Marseille side to the ground where he plied his trade during the 1999/2000 season, most notable from a Chelsea perspective for a memorable first campaign in the Champions League, a campaign of which he was very much part of. The ‘water-carrier’ of the side turned out 14 times for the Blues in European competition that season, and started both games against Marseille. Tomorrow the Frenchman aims to repeat his feat as Monaco manager by getting a successful result at the Bridge; defeat to Spartak Moscow in the opening game at home already leaves Marseille behind the side most like to prove their rivals for second spot in Group F.
Chelsea enjoyed an emphatic start to the competition winning 4-1 in northern Slovakia against MSK Zilina, themselves likely to prove the group’s whipping boys. But we head into this game on the back of a brace of defeats, and victory would go further than simply giving the Blues another three points; it would go a long way to restoring any lost confidence on the back of defeats to Newcastle and Manchester City. As it was, Saturday’s lunchtime defeat in Manchester didn’t prove as costly as it might have, with Arsenal’s woeful home defeat to West Bromwich Albion preceding Manchester United’s third consecutive away draw, this time at Bolton. But anything other than a victory tomorrow will spark a press reaction that the club could do without before Sunday’s London derby with Arsenal.
Frank Lampard will again be missing for Chelsea, his recovery from a hernia operation taking longer than first expected. He will also miss the game on Sunday. Didier Drogba is still banned and misses the opportunity to face OM for the first time since he left the southern French club for Chelsea in the summer of 2004. Other evident absentees are Yossi Benayoun and Salomon Kalou, injured in last Wednesday’s dramatic game with Newcastle, and Hilario, injured in training last week. Chelsea’s perilous attacking options mean that wither Daniel Sturridge or Gael Kakuta will be given the nod in Chelsea’s attacking front three. Kakuta’s inclusion would mean a surprising triumvirate of French players leading the line against the best club team French football has to offer, based on last season anyway.
Along with the disappointing if unfortunate defeat to the Muscovites (Spartak didn’t have one shot on target), l’OM suffered a torrid start to their campaign but have rediscovered a bit of form of late, unbeaten in five having lost their opening two games. Marseille’s chief attacking option will come from Andre Ayew, who has netted three goals this term and was an integral part of Ghana’s run to the World Cup Quarter-Finals this summer. Nigerian left-back Taye Taiwo has also scored three goals and recently indicated his desire for a move to Stamford Bridge, telling the Ligue 1 website ‘maybe at the end of the season if Ashley Cole is leaving, then they’ll be thinking of who can replace him and hopefully they’ll think of me.’ Other notable players likely to be featuring on Tuesday evening are captain and goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, a member of France’s disastrous World Cup campaign, creative midfielder Mathieu Valbuena, former Charlton centre-back Souleymane Diawara and Loic Remy, the forward that Sky Sports News seemed convinced Spurs would sign in the summer, the Nice forward eventually joining Marseille in August for around €15 million.
Marseille’s squad boasts some decent pedigree but nothing that should overly worry Chelsea, even if we are without Drogba and Lampard. A win tomorrow will mean little in terms of qualification, for that is assured, but will at least get the Blues back on the winning path. French opposition also comes in handy when one considers the weekend’s opposition and their French-heavy side.