Schalke 04 vs Chelsea | Tuesday 25 November | Veltins-Arena | 21:45
Chelsea’s imperious domestic form affords them the opportunity to truly approach this encounter on its own terms. I feel that Mourinho’s side have yet to explode in Europe as a result of a grievously difficult domestic scheduling that left them constantly looking over their collective European shoulder. There is a wonderfully bittersweet subtext to this encounter with the reunion of Roberto Di Matteo and his former employers, especially considering that this is the tournament which effectively cemented Di Matteo’s cult status within the hearts of Chelsea fans around the world. If Chelsea manage to avoid defeat they will secure a solid group victory that will lend further credence to what is looking like a fantastic season for the Blues.
To Win (90mins)
Schalke 04 37/10
Roberto Di Matteo’s reign at Schalke has thus far been characterised by wild swings in fortune and grand inconsistency. Since his appointment, Schalke have won four games while losing three, conceding eight goals in their last three Champions League games. Die Konigsblauen have never beaten an English side in five matches in the Champions League, and were soundly dispatched 3-0 by the London outfit the last time they met at Veltins-Arena. They will however draw encouragement from their draw at the Bridge earlier this season, and will be hoping to capitalize on any nerves in the Chelsea camp this week.
Captain and World Cup winner Benedikt Howedes will have to be on top form to contain the explosive Diego Costa, affectionately dubbed the ‘Governor’ by his new legion of adoring fans. On loan Bayern midfielder Jan Kirchhoff will no doubt be deployed in the defensive midfield role, charged with disrupting the formidable production line powered by the metronomic passing machine that is Cesc Fabregas. Kevin Prince-Boateng will look to burst from the midfield while Klaas Van Huntelaar remains as lethal in small doses as he does for the Dutch national football side. But they will have to be on top form against a Chelsea side unbeaten in eighteen competitive matches.
Chelsea’s victory over West Brom was characterised by Mourinho’s titular brand of nihilistic pragmatism, with Chelsea seemingly disinterested in racking up the cricket score that was there for the taking in the second half. Perhaps they had one eye on this encounter, so they can be forgiven for taking their foot off the gas. I expect them to be far more ruthless should the opportunities present themselves this week. And considering their vast array of attacking talent - coupled with Schalke’s flimsy defensive rigidity - they should have plenty of opportunities to get the points required for qualification.
Eden Hazard, in my opinion, is probably the player closest in world football to bridging the seemingly cavernous Messi-Ronaldo divide. His bursts of acceleration and balletic ball control have often been the difference between a turgid Chelsea draw and a fine London victory. Costa’s physicality will trouble Howedes and Fuchs while Matic and Fabregas form the cerebral cortex of this powerfully regimented Chelsea side.
VERDICT: Which Team to Score, Chelsea 19/10
I know that Chelsea have not kept too many clean sheets of late, but 19/10 seems like good value for Chelsea to win without conceding a goal using the Which Team to Score market. Filipe Luis is an excellent understudy to Cesar Azpilicueta, but the Spaniard’s return to the side has reunited an excellent defensive four that will test the creativity of Di Matteo’s men.
The man knows his football, but even he gets it wrong from time to time. Feel free to share your view below.