One week has already passed since the annual ceremony of the group stage draw and UEFA’s player of the year was held in Monaco. Chelsea have been drawn in the Group E, together with some familiar names: Schalke 04, FC Basel and Steaua Bucharest.
Schalke 04 was an opponent in a group with Rosenborg and Valencia of the 2007/08 Champions League. The home game then against Schalke resulted in a 2-0 win and the team under Grant drew in the away fixture in Gelsenkirchen. The German side had two of today’s well-known players, Özil and Neuer, in their squad at that time. Avram Grant, successor of Mourinho after an exit from the club early in that season, led the team to the first Champions League final in club history in that same season.
Chelsea met both Basel and Steaua Bucharest on their way of the Europa League win last season.
12/13: Early out in an uncomfortable group
Shakthar Donetsk, Juventus and Nordsjaelland: The group isn’t the hardest if you only hear the names, but it proved to be a very uncomfortable group. Juventus certainly has one of the biggest names in the football world and the Italians have a very strong team, but nobody really expected Chelsea to fail in that group. However, a loss in Donetsk and a huge 0-3 defeat in Turin put Chelsea third in the group, although Chelsea scored the highest number of goals in the group-stages. Europa League instead of Champions League knockout stages, we have to do better this season.
Schalke managed to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League in two poor performances in the qualifiers against Greek-side PAOK FC Thessaloniki. As the two qualifiers game, the start of the German ‘Blues’ into the new season was very poor too. A draw on the opening day against Hamburg (3:3) followed by disastrous defeats against Wolfsburg (0:4) and Hannover (1:2). However, things look better at Schalke after the signing of Kevin Prince Boateng from Milan days before deadline day and the first win in the Bundesliga, against Leverkusen, who impressed until now.
The German club should be an easy walk for Chelsea from what we have seen until now in the new season, but attention, if you look at Schalke’s squad, you will see how much quality the players have. Julian Draxler was one of the young and hot prospects for the big clubs in this year’s transfer window. The 19-year-old is most dangerous on the wings and he can easily pass defenders due to his enormous strong dribbling. In addition to the wings, Draxler can also be used as a central attacking midfielder. The German wonderkid has a strong shot and a strong weak foot too.
Besides Julian Draxler, Schalke also have a traditional goal-machine in Huntelaar, an attacking playmaker in new singing Kevin Prince Boateng, two solid defenders in German international Höwedes and youngster Papadopoulos.
Schalke should have enough experience and quality in their squad to finish behind Chelsea to secure a place in the knockout stages, but I don’t think that they will be a big threat for the real ‘Blues’.
Basel and Schalke will have a fight for the second place to advance from the group. The Swiss side is capable to surprise: As we know well from 2011, Basel eliminated Manchester United in the group stage and also beat Bayern at home in the knockout stages (before being trashed in Munich with a 0:7 defeat).
More than 4 months ago, Chelsea met Basel in the semi-final of the Europa League. A Chelsea-team in a great form beat Basel in both games to continue winning the Europa League in Amsterdam against Benfica.
As Schalke, Basel couldn’t impress with their start into the new season. Being the back-to-back champions in Switzerland, Basel only gained 12 points from 7 games and is currently ranked third in the table.
Basel made quite a few changes in the squad from last year. The most mentionable player who left is defender Dragovic. Chelsea shouldn’t get any problems with Basel too, but a competition-situation between Schalke and Basel for the second spot might affect Chelsea in winning the group.
Steaua Bucharest was another opponent Chelsea met in the Europa League last season. The away fixture ended in an unexpected defeat (0-1), but the game at the Stamford Bridge was won comfortably 3-1 by goals from Terry, Mata and Torres.
Both goal scorers for Steaua against Chelsea left the club: Defender Vlad Chiriches went to Tottenham and top-scorer Raul Rusescu left for Sevilla. Bucharest is going to be the furthest destination Chelsea has to travel, but also the easiest team to beat in this group. The Romanians primary goal will be finishing third to secure a place in the Europa League.
Champions League group-stage schedule
FC Basel, home, 18th September, Wednesday
Steaua Bucharest, away, 1th October, Tuesday
Schalke 04, away, 22th October, Tuesday
Schalke 04, home, 6th November, Wednesday
FC Basel, away, 26th November, Tuesday
Steaua Bucharest, home, 11th December, Wednesday
We have to finish first in this group
I think we can be very happy with the group we got. After an early exit a season ago in a much tougher group, this year Chelsea can prove the world that we will fight for the Champions League title. The group is very comfortable and the away trips aren’t far away, expect for Bucharest. Becoming first is a must, and Chelsea could also avoid a strong opponent in the next round as winner of the group.
What do you think about our group? Let me know in the comments! Jonny (@jonny9fan)