UEFA Champions League nights are back! It’s been a while since Chelsea found itself this deep in the continental competition; neither luck in the draw nor results after it have been with the Blues during their last few Champions League campaigns.
Seven years have passed since the team made it past the round of 16 of the competition. The Stamford Bridge outfit reached the semifinals that season, beating Paris Saint-Germain in the quarters. The draw has been kind to Chelsea during the latter stages of this year’s tournament though.
The Blues were able to avoid the likes of Bayern Munich and Manchester City when the balls were drawn two weeks ago. Instead, they were pitted against FC Porto. Sergio Conceicao’s men can be difficult to play against, however, they do lack the European pedigree when compared to some of the other teams left in the competition.
This tie became all the more significant for Chelsea after its loss to West Bromwich Albion at the weekend. Thomas Tuchel’s men were beaten 5-2 by the Premier League strugglers in one of the biggest shocks of the season.
The German will be looking for a response from his team during its upcoming Champions League fixture. It is exactly there that we begin our quest to map out things to look for during the match:
Tuchel’s Chelsea team will be defined by the lessons it learn in defeat. The German tactician enjoyed a prolonged honeymoon period since being hired by the club.
However, this is his first opportunity to take the measure of his squad’s mental strength—an attribute that was highlighted by past managers as a key weakness.
Chelsea was well-beaten by West Brom in their last match. The Blues were sluggish and made countless mistakes during the game—mistakes which the Baggies capitalized upon. Granted, that the team was on the back-foot the moment Thiago Silva was sent off, but was still completely outplayed by a side that is currently in the relegation zone. Nevertheless, Tuchel and Co. will know better than to dwell on the defeat. The games are coming thick and fast, and the next one holds significance.
The Blues’ match against Porto provides them with an opportunity to take strides toward the Champions League semifinals. It also presents them with a chance to respond positively following their first real setback under their new head coach. An inability to snap out of a negative streak has been among Chelsea’s key problems during the past few years.
The team has gone on several spells of poor form during the same time; spells which cost Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri the support, and Frank Lampard his job. Was the loss against West Brom a blip or is it a continuation of a worrying trend? We won’t have to wait long to find out.
Chelsea’s response against Porto will answer some of the bigger-picture questions surrounding the team. However, it will be just as interesting to see how the Blues react in-game to a side that thrives on defensive solidity and attacking efficiency.
By the virtue of their recent history and their position in respective domestic leagues, it can be ascertained that Juventus and Manchester City are the two top teams Porto has played this season. As expected, the Dragoes surrendered possession in those matches—averaging just over 30 percent—and focused on restricting spaces to the opposing teams. Man City broke Conceicao’s men easily in their first match, but was only able to draw 0-0 in their second. Juventus fared even worse. Porto beat the Bianconeri in their round of 16 first leg before sealing the tie on aggregate in the second.
Tuchel’s Chelsea does not play much differently than either City or Juventus. The Blues like to control possession and circulate the ball around until the perfect opening presents itself. That plays perfectly into Porto’s gameplan. The Portuguese outfit can sit back and restrict its opponents from creating chances before hitting them on the counter.
The game can turn into an attack versus defence scenario, but Conceicao won’t care. Frustrating the English side will be No. 1 on his list of priorities heading into the match.
As such, it will be fascinating to see how Tuchel and Chelsea prepare for their test ahead.
Will the German switch to a four-man defence and add another attacker to the team? Will Callum Hudson-Odoi receive a call-up in place of the more defensive Reece James? Will the coach stick with a conservative starting XI to minimize the likelihood of a surprise? There’s a lot to keep an eye out for during this one.
Tournament football is about one thing and one thing only—results. The team which plays the best football or scores the most goals is often forgotten quickly. However, the one which wins the whole thing has its name etched in history. Results matter in a tournament, more so than anything else.
Tuchel’s men will fly to Seville this week in search of a positive result. The Premier League side has been designated the ‘away’ team tag for this match, despite it being held in a neutral venue. That means that getting a positive result in this one becomes even more important for Chelsea. Furthermore, scoring goals will be a priority for the team, as it would hand them a considerable advantage ahead of the return leg next week.
Chelsea has already registered a positive result in Seville this season. The Blues visited Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan for a group match against Sevilla and were 4-0 winners on the night with Olivier Giroud scoring a remarkable quadruple. The London outfit has history on its side too. The Blues have beaten Porto in five of their last eight Champions League matches, including their last knockout stage encounter in 2007.
Furthermore, the team has enjoyed more success only against Spanish oppositions in the competition than they have against the Portuguese.
The odds are heavily in favour of Chelsea ahead of the match.
However, that means the pressure is on the Blues to get a positive result from the game. Porto will relish being the underdogs, as they did against Juventus. As such, Tuchel’s team will have to be wary not to slip up like the Bianconeri, who were unable to get the better of the Dragoes, despite possessing arguably the best Champions League player in history.
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