Tuesday Team Talk: Can Chelsea make an impact in Europe this year?

Chelsea begin their European campaign tomorrow night by welcoming Schalke 04 to Stamford Bridge.

After a strong start to the domestic season – winning four from four – the Blues will be after another positive result as they aim to take their good form into Europe’s elite competition.

This season’s Champions League offers the 2012 winners a chance to claim the trophy in a more dominant style than they did two years ago.

Back then, they almost exited the competition in the last 16 when they trailed Napoli 3-1 before a heroic display at Stamford Bridge led to 5-4 aggregate victory.

The semi-final against Barcelona also saw them play most of the game without the ball but still record a 3-2 aggregate win.

Now Chelsea are in the ascendency with a squad that would be envied by any in Europe.

In Diego Costa the Blues have a striker that is tailor-made for a Jose Mourinho team, and he could be one of the leading lights in Europe this season.

Costa will be eager to remedy his performance in last year’s all Madrid Champions League final, limping off less than 10 minutes into the game.

Costa’s former Atletico teammate Thibaut Courtois is arguably only second to Manuel Neuer as an elite goalkeeper and he will be a safe pair of hands.

In defence, John Terry can sometimes be a risk but Gary Cahill has matured into a defender who has the ability to make up for this.

Cesar Azpilicueta managed to dislodge Ashley Cole from the left-back position last season and Branislav Ivanovic is a full-back who can really take the game to the opposition.

In midfield, there is a good balance of creativity in the form of the revitalised Cesc Fabregas and tenacity in the shape of one of the best signings of last season, Nemanja Matic.

And with any combination of Eden Hazard, Andre Schurrle, Oscar and Willian behind Costa, Chelsea have a great deal of creativity going forward.

“Chelsea have a great deal of creativity going forward.”

This is a tournament that Jose Mourinho really flourishes in and he should be able to motivate his team to a result against Schalke – potentially the toughest opponents in their group.

The two teams met in last year’s group stage, with Chelsea winning both home and away 3-0, but the Germans will be hoping to give a better account of themselves this time around.

Despite an injury crisis that sees them without Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Felipe Santana, and with doubts over Joel Matip, Jan Kirchhoff and talented winger Jefferson Farfan, Schalke will still pose a threat.

Accomplished defender Benedikt Howedes will provide the backbone, while 18-year-old Max Meyer, Kevin Prince Boateng and Julian Draxler will provide the attacking creativity.

Chelsea have been granted the luxury of a relatively easy group – Sporting Lisbon and NK Maribor are the other teams they will face before the knockout stages – meaning domestic responsibilities may take priority for the time being.

Fortunately for Mourinho, he boasts a squad with depth and they should be able to deal with both campaigns.

Competition for the trophy will likely come from Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

But Bayern have already lost their 100% league record by drawing with Schalke, Man City have lost in the league to Stoke and often disappoint in Europe, and Madrid have also already suffered defeat.

Chelsea though have won every game so far, scoring 15 goals in four matches, and if they can transfer their blistering league form to Europe, they will be a big contender for Europe’s biggest prize.

Picture courtesy of Brent Flanders, with thanks

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