Our Champions League hopes lie in the balance after losing to Fenerbahce last Wednesday, but the good thing about European football is that you tend to get a second chance. Redemption is set for Stamford Bridge on Tuesday evening as the Turkish champions travel to London with the slenderest of leads, and an away goal against their name. It may be our second chance, but it could be our last if we cock it all up. But then again, this is the Bridge we’re talking about, our impregnable home, and if Fener fans thought they came from ‘Hell’, they’re in for a real treat when they meet 40,000 rowdy Londoners! Oh, and the eleven on the pitch of course.
Having said for the past few games that Peter Cech will return for the Arsenal/Middlesbrough/Man City games and been left with egg on my face, I’m just going to forget him for this preview and hope for a bit of reverse psychology. Other than he who shall not be named (again), Avram Grant has no real injury problems to contend with. Add into the mix the fact that we have no suspensions, and there is no reason why we cannot play our strongest side. The question is, does anyone know what our strongest side is?
A 2-0 win over Manchester City on Saturday should set us up nicely for the Fenerbahce clash, but the Turks had a decent weekend themselves. After conceding an early goal to Kayserispor at home, Zico’s side fought back with an Alex penalty followed up by a late, late winner courtesy of striker Semih Sentürk to continue their charge towards the title. For the game against the Blues, Roberto Carlos could take the field after missing the first leg through injury, while Mateja Kezman should be in line for a return to Stamford Bridge-although some would say he barely turned up while he was with Chelsea.
In case you’d forgotten, Fenerbahce lead the tie on aggregate after an own goal from Deivid was cancelled out by a 30-yard screamer from, er, Deivid, after a Colin Kazim-Richards leveller. Despite the scoreline, we were seen as the better side in the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium last Wednesday, and seeing as we only need a 1-0 win to progress to the semi-finals, we have to take that momentum into the Stamford Bridge meeting. Conceding a goal could prove to be costly however, so we will have to see some of that tactical nous Avram Grant is supposedly known for!
With a sell-out crowd at the Bridge backing the boys, we can feel confident of progressing to the semi-finals for the fourth time in five years. With the season coming to a close, we need to keep up our momentum, and a win on Tuesday would not only boost our Champions League chances, but also our morale in general, hopefully leading to a blockbuster finish to the League campaign. This may be the quarter-final second leg, but it will feel like another cup final, and in truth, every game from now is.
Prediction: I’m going for a 1-0 but I really hope we have more of a cushion than that, because if it is settled by the odd goal, I don’t think my nerves will be able to cope! Hopefully we see a strong team display, some decent football played, and some unhappy Turkish fans at the final whistle.