The Champions League group G could be all over bar the shouting tonight. Chelsea could have their first real bright week of the season tonight, qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages tonight only days after a Premier League win – their first since mid-October’s win over bottom-of-the-table Aston Villa.
Or tonight could really set the cat amongst the pigeons and leave Chelsea feeling the Champions League pressure. What’s more worrying is that this could all happen outside of Chelsea’s control.
Even though Chelsea have a long way to travel for their Champions League tie against Maccabi Tel-Aviv, the odds are that the London club will beat their group whipping boys and move onto 10 points – a points tally that usually means qualification for the next round.
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Given death, destruction and uncertainty around the world this week, Chelsea’s trip to the world’s safest dangerous city means that they’ll have one of the more awkward games against a minnow.
But even doing their job tonight might not guarantee anything. Chelsea’s season has been beset by poor performances and allegations of players not playing for their manager, yet as bad as the decisions have been, there has also been a plague of bad luck.
Losing Thibaut Courtois for such a long time is a terrible thing for Jose Mourinho, as have been some of the goals his side have conceded. They even played quite well against Stoke just before the international break, before losing the game 1-0.
So it would just sum up Chelsea’s season to win tonight, after a win at the weekend, with things looking up and looking brighter, to then be faced with having to win their last game against Porto to qualify for the next round.
So even by doing their own job tonight, Chelsea would be made to sweat. And Chelsea, in the midst of their worst season for quite some time, could crack under the pressure.
That’s why tonight is important. To make sure they win is important for their Champions League ambitions – even though the other result could have a bearing too – but it’s also important for the rest of their season. To win two games in a row, to get players back to winning ways and to set up qualification for the Champions League knockout round is paramount, even if a win tonight may not be the end of the story in group G.
Next up in the Premier League for Chelsea is Spurs at White Hart Lane. It’s one of the Premier League’s form sides against a team that has only won two league games since mid October. So getting some momentum going is just what Chelsea need.
This is a chance for the players to grab some form and show that they’re behind Mourinho. It’s a chance to possibly qualify outright tonight, but certainly a chance to make life easier for themselves going into the final group game in two weeks.
Beating Norwich and Maccabi Tel-Aviv should be exactly what’s expected from Chelsea. In fact, if this were last season, even wins and poor performances wouldn’t be acceptable. The wins would be so clearly expected that the manner of the wins would be what we’d scrutinise.
The fact that tonight is about building momentum more than it is about sending a message out to future opponents just shows where Chelsea are at the moment. 12 points behind a Champions League spot just isn’t good enough, and it’s hard to see Chelsea making up even six points on Arsenal and Manchester City let alone 12.
Momentum is key because that’s what will prove me wrong. If Chelsea can manage to win a few games on the spin and move up the table, they’ll look like more of a force again.
But without it, Chelsea are going to flounder their way to a mid-table finish and a very disappointing defence of an impressively won title.