HE'S AN EVIL WIZARD I KNEW IT ALL ALONG
This whole Champions League business feels a lot better now that we've won it. For years, Chelsea's first group stage matches have been the first steps of a futile journey. We were never, ever going to win the stupid European Cup, and I think every single Chelsea supporter of a certain age knew that somewhere deep in their bones.
But now that Didier Drogba's done his thing, we can be a little more relaxed about a certain big-eared pot. It's just one more trophy to go for, and while it'd be nice to defend it, it's not the be all and end all of football. Let's just enjoy some great, great football. Speaking of good football, first up are Serie A champions Juventus.
Date/Time: Wednesday, Sep. 19. 7:45 PM BST (2:45 PM EDT).
Venue: Stamford Bridge, London.
TV: Sky Sports 2 (UK), Fox Soccer Channel (USA).
Tim Palmer's already provided you with an absolutely wonderful tactical preview, so there's not much need to go into further depth on how they play. Personally, I think that they're a wee bit overrated -- they dropped points on fifteen separate occasions last season and were blown away by Napoli in the Coppa Italia final, and probably wouldn't have Scudetto if they'd have European commitments -- but it's still obvious that they're a fine team and a good test for the Blues in Group E.
If Chelsea want to top the group, it's important that they earn three points at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. You'd have to imagine that they're favourites -- they won this tournament last season by beating Bayern Munich following the semifinal win against Barcelona, both of whom are well out of Juventus' league. But this isn't going to be easy, and as Tim has highlighted, Juve pose a fascinating tactical challenge.
There are a number of ways we might want to deal with them, but realistically the keys are twofold: Stop Andrea Pirlo (it turns out he's nowhere near as good when he's not allowed to do basically whatever he wants, a lesson England should have learned before their quarterfinal loss to Italy in Euro 2012). Stop wingback overlaps. Granted, neither is as easy as it sounds, but crack those issues and Chelsea will be alright.
How do we do it? I'd advise man-marking/kicking Pirlo with Ramires, who should probably be able to get away with quite a lot of kicking before he's booked, and giving both Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephen Lichtsteiner something extra to worry about by dropping Eden Hazard and Juan Mata in behind them, like so:
I could still see Juventus hurting us on the counterattack, of course, but that's just something we'll have to put up with. We've got a strong opponent to deal with, but it's the Champions League. It's not like we've never faced a decent team before.