If it isn’t quite squeaky-bum time just yet for Chelsea in the Champions League, then they are at the very least at the point where any more slip-ups could bring about the unthinkable: post-Christmas Thursday nights with Matt Smith on ITV4.
The Blues may be the current kings of Europe, but that counts for absolutely nothing at the moment as Roberto Di Matteo’s men battle to get out of Group H and avoid the ignominy of being the first Champions League holders to fail to get into the last 16 of the following year’s competition.
Because a look at the table shows that Chelsea’s progression to the knock-out stages is far from assured. The west Londoners currently lie second in the group but with Danish side Nordsjælland propping up the section without a prayer of qualifying, Di Matteo’s side are in a three-way battle with Juventus and Wednesday’s opponents Shakhtar Donetsk to finish in the top two places.
And Di Matteo has already admitted that Chelsea’s hopes are on a knife edge. The holders’ only win came against the minnows from Denmark and a home draw against Juve and an away defeat in Ukraine last time out has left Chelsea on just four points, three behind group leaders Shakhtar and one ahead of the Italian giants with three to play.
But with a trip to Juventus to come after their clash with Shakhtar at Stamford Bridge, the Blues are entering must-win territory and if a victory over Nordsjælland on Matchday 6 is a formality, then the visit of the Ukrainian champions is most definitely not.
How Roman Abramovich would react to Europa League football is an interesting thought and you would imagine it would only accelerate Di Matteo’s inevitable exit (there is no way the former West Brom coach is seeing out that two-year contract) but four points from the next two would all but secure a passage to the last 16. Can the Italian do what is required?
Chelsea are 9/10 favourites with bwin to beat Shakhtar, who are 5/2, with the draw at 29/10. However, this is no gimme for the Blues – far from it.
Donetsk were easily the better side at the Donbass Arena two weeks ago, with the 2-1 scoreline flattering Chelsea and the Ukrainians will go to Stamford Bridge full of confidence. Mircea Lucescu’s side are in incredible form and remain unbeaten all season: in fact, the only one of the 20 matches in all competitions they have failed to win this term was their trip to Juventus, which finished in a 1-1 draw.
Chelsea, on the other hand, come into the match in some iffy form. The Blues haven’t won a match in 90 minutes in their last four, which takes in defeats to Shakhtar and Manchester United, a draw at full-time against the Red Devils in the Capital One Cup (which they eventually went on to win) and a draw at Swansea in their last Premier League outing at the weekend.
What all those games have in common, though, is that both teams found the net, and I think at 3/5, that is a nailed on bet when Shakhtar are in London. Both teams have actually scored in Chelsea’s last six fixtures, where a total of 30 goals have gone in at either end, and I cannot see a situation where both teams aren’t on the scoresheet at Stamford Bridge.
Shakhtar have won 19 of their 20 games, so they have obviously scored in all of those, and in Luiz Adriano and Willian, both of whom gave Chelsea a torrid time in Ukraine, Donetsk have players who can hurt the home side and I think both teams scoring is lump-on material. Register here if you’re a new customer and make sure you’re on the 3/5.