Club Focus – Chelsea – Blues hope for perfect finish to flawless CL group stage

With a place in the last 16 and top spot in Group F already assured, Chelsea will likely make changes to their first-team for their Champions League visit to Olympique Marseille on Wednesday. The opportunity to rest regular starters has been taken as Ashley Cole and Nicolas Anelka, who has five goals in five Champions League games this season, stay in London, while Alex, Frank Lampard and Yuri Zhirkov all miss out due to injury for the trip to the Stade Velodrome with Carlo Ancelotti expected to give youth and fringe players opportunities from the start. The reigning English champions could become only the fifth side in the Champions League era to win all six of their group stage matches should they return from France victorious.

The Blues have a modest record away to French opposition in Europe’s top competition, winning on just one of four visits, 3-0 against Paris Saint-Germain in September 2004. The only time Chelsea travelled to Marseille was in the second group stage of the 1999-2000 competition where they suffered a 1-0 defeat thanks to Robert Pires strike, the Frenchman recently signed by Aston Villa and formerly of Arsenal. However, back in September, Chelsea welcomed Marseille to Stamford Bridge and sent the visitors home without much joy, triumphing 2-0 courtesy of first-half goals by John Terry and an Anelka penalty as the English club stamped their early authority on Group F.

The match-up brings together players and managers from both teams with existing history. For Chelsea forward Didier Drogba, it sees a return home to his former side for the first time since his £24million move from Marseille to London. The Ivorian was one of former Blues manager Jose Mourinho’s first summer signings at the end of the 2003-04 season, after impressing in his sole season at Marseille in which he was voted French Professional Footballers’ Union Ligue 1 Player of the Year on the back of 19 goals in 35 League games. He also led the side to the UEFA Cup final with 11 goals in 15 European appearances, including five goals in the Champions League, as they beat English opponents Newcastle and Liverpool en route to the final, in which they were beaten 2-0 by Valencia. Managing the hosts will be former Chelsea midfielder Didier Deschamps, who won the FA Cup during his one year with the Blues back in 2000. He also coached AS Monaco FC to the UEFA Champions League final in May 2004, dispatching of Chelsea along the way in the semi-finals 5-3 on aggregate, where they lost 3-0 to FC Porto, ironically managed for the last time by the outgoing Mourinho, who then led Chelsea to the Premier League title twice in three seasons.

Marseille clinched a place in the knockout stage themselves after winning 3-0 at Spartak Moscow, a result which saw them leapfrog the Russians into second place. Much like their Premier League opponents, reigning French champions Marseille have recently been knocked off the top of their domestic league, having headed the Ligue 1 table after 14 games. However, a goalless draw at home to Rennes followed by a 1-0 defeat in injury time this weekend to Nice has seen Deschamps’ men slip to fourth place in a competitive division, with the top ten sides incredibly split by just four points.

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