Chelsea have returned to the competition which serves as a “holy grail” for owner Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea players. After a dismal 10th finish in the 2015/2016 season, Chelsea did not qualify for the Champions League last season but they won the league title and have announced their return to Europe’s premier club competition in smashing fashion.
Placed in Pot 1 along with the League winners of top 8 leagues of Europe, Chelsea hoped to get a relatively comfortable start to the Champions League campaign. As Francesco Totti pulled out the team names, Chelsea will be a bit worried as Spanish biggies Atletico Madrid, Totti’s ex-club AS Roma and newcomers Qarabag were drawn along with Chelsea in what looks like an exciting group C.
Pot 2 had a few tougher teams and Chelsea got one of them in Atletico but they would have been comforted by the fact that they avoided PSG or Barcelona. AS Roma also represents a strong opponent and Qarabag will be a completely unpredictable entity.
Here is the breakdown of each of these sides as we try to determine what lies in store for Chelsea:
The Rojiblancos have been time and again fallen short of winning the Champions League. They are currently 4th in the UEFA coefficient rankings thanks to 2 finals, 1 semi-final and 1 quarter final appearance in the last 4 seasons.
Atletico reached the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League final by beating Chelsea in the semi-finals, following up a goalless home leg with a 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge.
The Spanish club also beat Chelsea in the 2012 UEFA Super Cup, coming out on top 4-1 thanks mainly to a Radamel Falcao hat-trick.
They are one of the most feared sides in Europe and under Diego Simeone’s leadership aspire great things. They have however been hit with a transfer ban this summer and their only summer signing Vitolo has been loaned out to Las Palmas until January. It’s ironic that Chelsea drew Atletico with the ongoing Diego Costa saga although he will not be able to face Chelsea even if he completes his dream move due to Atletico’s ban. Courtois faces Atletico Madrid for the first time after his successful stint with the club and Fernando Torres returns to Stamford Bridge after his much-maligned stint with the Blues.
All in all, two mouth-watering clashes between Conte’s and Simeone’s sides are in store.
Finished second in the Serie A last season and also return to the competition after a year out. They have sold Mohammed Salah to Liverpool and defensive stalwart Antonio Rudiger will return to face them with Chelsea. Roma also have lost Totti to retirement but they have made 10 signings this summer in a bid to replace the outgoing players. Kolarov, Fazio, Gonalons, Pellegrini, Karsdorp, Moreno and Jesus have been drafted in to bolster the defensive areas. Attackers Dzeko, Perotti, El Shaarawy will provide a considerable threat to the opposition with the midfield generals Nainggolan, De Rossi and Strootman behind them.
Chelsea and Roma met in the 2008/09 group stage, Chelsea winning 1-0 in London but going down 3-1 in Italy.
This could be a tough contest but Chelsea will be hoping they will see it through comfortably.
Qarabag became the first team from Azerbaijan to qualify for the group stage. The manager, Gurban Gurbanov, has been there since 2008 and prefers to play three up front with the South African Dino Ndlovu as the focal point.
They navigated through 3 qualifying rounds beating, Samtredia, FC Sheriff, and FC Copenhagen to book their place here in group C. There is not much to talk about the Club but this fixture does not represent an easy task, especially away from home as clubs will dread making the 2500 miles journey to Azerbaijan in midweek which leads to fatigue in the players.