A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s home tie against Valencia.
The group stages of both European competitions start this week and Chelsea kick off their campaign with a home tie against Spanish side Valencia on Tuesday.
The match will be a return to the Champions League for The Blues after just 1 season away in which they won the Europa League in Baku.
The match sits in the middle of a very tough week for The Blues, after a tricky away trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers and then the current run away Premier League leaders Liverpool travelling to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Frank Lampard will need to manage his available players carefully during this run of matches. Unfortunately Antonio Rudiger is ruled out after suffering a groin injury during his return to action on Saturday.
He has joined Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Emerson Palmieri and N’Golo Kante, while Reece James may be included in the squad.
We can expect a number of the players who didn’t play in the win on Saturday to be involved, including Christian Pulisic, Pedro and Olivier Giroud.
Firstly Frank will need to decide on which formation he wants to opt for. The 3 at the back deployed on Saturday appeared to give the team more solidarity in the defence and better balance.
Kurt Zouma can replace Rudiger, as he did at Molineux, and Alonso and Azpilicueta could reprise their more forward roles on the flanks. Ross Barkley could replace Mateo Kovacic, Pulisic instead of Mason Mount and Michy Batshuayi up front in place of hat trick hero Tammy Abraham.
But it will be the team’s attitude that will be key. Their opponents have undergone a bit of an upheaval already this season and The Blues must not let their result on Saturday lead to any level of complacency. Remember this is Europe’s most prestigious competition and Frank himself talked about the heightened levels of concentration required when competing in the Champions League.
Valencia have not been in this competition since 2011 but were returning to the higher levels in Spanish football having finally qualifying this season and winning the Spanish Cup at the end of last season.
Marcelino was sacked as manager during the international break, despite the progress the team had made under his stewardship. He was replaced by Albert Celades, who has never been a manager at senior level.
Having coached national youth teams and being an assistant manager for the senior national team at both the 2014 and 2018 world cups, he was assistant manager at Real Madrid under Julen Lopetegui for 3 unsuccessful months last year.
His appointment at Valencia surprised everyone and they were hammered 5-2 by Barcelona on Saturday in his first match in charge. Then none of his players agreed to join him for his pre match press conference before their match at Stamford Bridge.
So things are not running smoothly for the Spaniards. But, beware the wounded animal. Valencia still contain a number of quality players and are capable of beating anyone on their day.
But this opening group match is a big opportunity for The Blues. The draw left them in what could be the toughest group, with all 4 teams very capable of qualifying for the latter stages.
So a win and 3 points to start with would be the perfect way to keep the upbeat feel around the club going ahead of Sunday’s clash against Liverpool.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue