Chelsea are under immense pressure to turn things around after an abysmal start to the defence of their Premier League title, as their European campaign begins at home to Maccabi Tel-Aviv on Wednesday evening.
On paper, it is clearly a game that the Blues should win, but nothing appears easy at present for a side which looked unflappable for so much of last season. Indeed, it was only in this competition where they showed any signs of nerves, succumbing to the 10 men of Paris St. Germain in a tumultuous last 16 encounter, a result which really leaves Chelsea with a point to prove in Europe this time around.
This match does perhaps offer the beleaguered outfit from West London a welcome distraction from their domestic struggles, as matters reached a new low on Saturday at Everton, where they lacked ideas in attack and were all at sea in defence once again, characteristics which are just not associated with Chelsea, especially under Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese has been left to bemoan a number of circumstances that have gone against his side, but he will be so worried that they seem so easy to score against and that so many key players are underperforming.
In an attacking sense, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard are the biggest culprits in that regard, with their performances so far this term worlds away from the glorious football they were producing on a weekly basis in 2014-15. So highly rated only months ago, young defender Kurt Zouma also seems to be struggling. It is something that must turn around quickly if they are to have any chance of retrieving that chasm of a deficit to Premier League leaders Manchester City, and to have any chance of making a significant impact in this competition, the one still missing from Mourinho’s Chelsea collection.
If they can do that, making it through to the knockout stages should not prove to be too much of a problem, with FC Porto and Dynamo Kiev also providing opposition in Group G. Getting off to a good start here would be a massive boost to the confidence, though Maccabi Tel-Aviv will be well aware of the home side’s struggles and will not make it easy. Their qualifying victory over Basel was a highly impressive result and suggests they are not in the competition to merely make up the numbers.
The Israeli club completed a famous domestic treble last term and have improved consistently in recent seasons despite often changing managers. Former Watford boss – and Chelsea player – Slavisa Jokanovic is the man currently in charge, working alongside sporting director Jordi Cruyff. As for those representing the club on the pitch, Eran Zahavi has a superb scoring record and will be their biggest threat.
Mourinho may decide to make changes for Chelsea, with possible recalls for Willian and Gary Cahill. Recent signing Papy Djilobodji is not in their Champions League squad, while Oscar is absent through injury along with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.