Unwanted history beckons Torres-hit Chelsea

European champions stand only a slim chance of squeezing into the Champions League last 16

Even victory at home to FC Nordsjaelland on Wednesday may not prevent Chelsea from becoming the first Champions League holders to go out at the group phase the following season.

Without a win in seven games in the Premier League and with interim coach Rafael Benitez already under pressure, the European champions stand only a slim chance of squeezing into the last 16.

Their 3-0 humbling at Juventus in Roberto Di Matteo's last game in charge two weeks ago means the London club can only progress if they win and Juve lose at Shakhtar Donetsk in the other Group E game.

Shakhtar have already qualified, but Juventus require only a point to join them in the knockout phase and a draw would also ensure that the Ukrainian champions finish top of the group.

Benitez, appointed on a temporary basis in the wake of Di Matteo's dismissal, saw his side lose 3-1 at West Ham United on Saturday.

After goalless draws with Manchester City and Fulham in his first two matches, it made him the first Chelsea coach in the Roman Abramovich era to fail to win in his opening three games.

The free-flowing football of August, September and early October now seems a distant memory and Benitez has thus far shown no signs of being able to stop the rot that had begun to set in under Di Matteo.

Chelsea were even forced to deny media reports emerging on Monday that former manager Avram Grant - another interim appointment - was set to rejoin the club in an advisory capacity.

Benitez can expect another frosty reception at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday but even with qualification a distant possibility, he believes turning things around on the pitch will be the first step on the road to recovery.

"We will try to adjust things and if the players are more comfortable in terms of what they have to do on the pitch, you can give them some confidence," said the Spaniard.

"These are players that have won the Champions League and have won a lot of trophies so they have to show this character, but they need a little more confidence."

Benitez forged a reputation for excelling in the Champions League by guiding Liverpool to two finals - including victory in 2005 - but he has not taken charge of a game in the competition since leaving Inter Milan two years ago.

To date, he has persevered with Di Matteo's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation but he is yet to settle on the configuration of his midfield, with Ramires and Eden Hazard the only midfielders to start the last three games.

Fernando Torres has now gone over 11 hours without a league goal but with Daniel Sturridge dogged by a hamstring problem, Benitez has no option but to persevere with his misfiring countryman.

Chelsea must also do without injured stalwarts John Terry (knee) and Frank Lampard (calf), both of whom may not return to action until the club travel to Japan later this month for the Club World Cup.

Nordsjaelland impressed with the audacity of their football in the first meeting between the teams in Copenhagen two months ago, before fading badly and going down to a 4-0 defeat that rather flattered the visitors.

With only a point from their first five matches, the Danish champions are already certain to finish bottom of Group E, and coach Kasper Hjulmand says Chelsea's dismal recent form is no reason for optimism.

"We should definitely not think that Chelsea are a bad team just because they've had some poor results," he said.

"It's not only the scoreboard that matters."

Highly rated centre-back Jores Okore - a Chelsea fan - has been ruled out for the rest of the year with a torn thigh muscle, so American Michael Parkhurst is expected to move into the centre of defence from right-back.
 

Print
  • Twitter
  • submit to reddit
comments powered by Disqus

Videos

Most Popular on Emirates 24|7

Latest jobs available

More jobs on Emirates 24|7