Following another dismal result during the weekend in the Premier League, English Champions Chelsea will look elsewhere for inspiration when they host Israeli Maccabi Tel-Aviv on Wednesday evening as the sides gear up for their first Champions League group stage meeting of the season. Mourinho, after failing to take Chelsea past the round of 16 in Europe last season, will look to improve and progress further this year, in a bid to add to his growing list of honours with the West London club. A home game against the weakest side in the group (with due respect) should help them bounce back to winning ways as soon as possible, but then they can’t afford to underestimate anyone at this moment in time.
For Maccabi Tel-Aviv, it’s a long awaited return to the competition, after ten years of trying and failing and trying again. Arguably, the largest football club from Israel, defied the odds when they overcame favorites FC Basel in the final qualifying round to seal their place in the main draw. After an entertaining 2-2 draw in Switzerland, the Yellows played out a nerve-wracking 1-1 at home to ensure their progression by the away goals rule. An upset on Wednesday is unlikely but then given the poor form of the hosts, coach Slaviša Jokanović might be fancying his chances to cause one. He was optimistic about his side’s daunting trip to London when he said,
“Is there really ever a nice time to go to Stamford Bridge and take on Chelsea? I am happy because we have this chance to play against Chelsea and test ourselves in the biggest competition in club football. We need to be intelligent and pick our moments. I trust my players. We have surprised people already in this competition – so why not do that again?”
Chelsea have a couple of key injuries ahead of the opening group stage encounter with Thibaut Courtois rumored to be sidelined until December while Oscar is expected to start on the bench against Tel Aviv after recovering from a knee injury. Recent signing Papy Djilobodji is ineligible, having been left out of Chelsea’s European squad – but Kenedy, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Bertrand Traore are included and thus available.
Tel Aviv have no major injuries going into this game with defender Eliazer Dasa the only suspension.
Chelsea have won just one of their six matches in all competitions this season – a 3-2 victory at West Bromwich Albion.
Maccabi are seven games unbeaten in the league and in Europe since losing 2-1 at home to Viktoria Plzeň in the second leg of their third qualifying round tie, although they did lose to Maccabi Petach Tikva in the Israeli Toto Cup.
The Blues have only lost once in their last 35 home Champions League matches in the Group Stage.
Pedro Rodriguez – Chelsea
Arrived late in the summer from Barcelona, Pedro has found his feet in England much quicker than expected as the Spaniard scored a fine goal in his debut in Chelsea’s only win of the season so far. The versatile forward has so far been providing the spark in an otherwise lackluster attack, having created 8 chances from open play so far in 3 appearances. His experience in big games will prove vitally important for the Blues on Wednesday as Chelsea look to revive their campaign with a morale boosting result.
Eran Zahavi – Maccabi Tel-Aviv
This 28-year old midfielder from Israel has been providing the star turn for Tel-Aviv as his prolific goal-scoring record in the qualifying phase has propelled the Yellows to their first group stage appearance in a decade. Zahavi scored 7 goals in 5 appearances making him the top goalscorer in the play-off rounds from as little as 13 attempts on target averaging a goal from every 2 shots on target. Zahavi’s recent record in Europe might prove really crucial to the Maccabi’s chances of staging a famous upset at Stamford Bridge.
A routine win for the Blues.
Chelsea 2-0 Maccabi Tel-Aviv