By, Navaneeth Ravichandran (Twitter: @navrav28)
It wasn’t the worst group Chelsea could have found itself in, but it certainly wasn’t the easiest. The Champions League draw was held in Monaco on Thursday, and with it saw the Blues drawn into Group C along with Spanish behemoth Athletico Madrid, Italian giant AS Roma, and Azerbaijan champions Qarabag FK. How will Antonio Conte’s men fare in the club’s first Champions League appearance in almost two years? Let’s analyze each of the three teams Chelsea will need to face, ordered alphabetically, followed by my prediction of how the group will end.
Italian legend Franscesco Totti was the man in charge for the draw itself, as he placed his beloved club in the same group as Chelsea. Roma’s story to qualify for the Champion’s League was epic, as they grabbed Italy’s last qualification spot, beating rivals Napoli by just 1 point at the conclusion of the Serie A season. Di Franscesco’s squad are no pushover, and Conte’s familiarity with them from his time with Juventus may turn out to be a deciding factor. Previous fixtures between the two are extremely limited. Aside from two Fairs Cup matchupts in 1965, Chelsea and Roma last faced each other, also in the Champions League group stage, in 2008. Each team won their respective home game; Chelsea 1-0 victors at Stamford Bridge, and Roma 3-1 winners at Stadio Olimpico. With Premier leauge games also on the schedule, Conte will look to rotate his squad and utilize the depth available to him, meaning a Roma reunion with Antonio Rudiger looks very likely.
One thing that is an absolute guarantee at this point, Diego Costa will definitely be watching this one.
The drawn out saga happening right now pertaining to the Brazilian striker has been well documented. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Chelsea’s striker for the past few seasons no longer wishes to play for Conte, and has been attempting to orchestrate a move to Athletico, where he plied his trade before his move to England. Due to the transfer ban imposed on Athletico, it is impossible for Costa to join the Spanish team quickly enough to face Chelsea (imagine the scenes if he did), although this storyline will hover around this group stage.
Due to the aforementioned transfer ban, Diego Simeone has not been able to bring in any new transfers, meaning the squad that will be facing Chelsea will be a very familiar looking squad to those who have been following this team last season. Los Rojiblancos know very well that this competition has been dominated by their city mates at the Bernabeu, could this be the year that Athletico finally get over the hump in Europe?
Oh, and hi Fernando Torres. It’ll be nice to see you again.
When this team was announced in the group, the collective opinion of every Chelsea fan worldwide was, “who?”. A quick Google search revealed they are the reigning Azerbaijan champions, based in Baku. Baku by the way, is almost 2,500 miles from London, meaning the plane ride there will be almost five and a half hours long. Thankfully, the distance should be the only real obstacle facing Chelsea, and anything other than a win against them will be a massive dissapointment for the Champions of England.
For those reading who are more curious about this team and take an interest in World politics, the following article linked will be for you. It explains why Qarabag currently play in Baku and have done so since 1993, even though the club itself is based in Aghdam. It’s a bit of a sad read, but gives you an idea of what this club has been through just to survive. Obviously, I’ll be cheering for Chelsea to win in any matchup between the two, but rest assured I’ll be cheering for an upset in games against Athletico and Roma.
Although I would love for them to make some noise, we can safely assume Qarabag will finish dead last, leaving the other three teams to fight for the two spots available. Although Roma are almost always a threat in Serie A, I simply do not see them having enough talent to challenge in this group, particularly since they sold off Mohamed Salah and Antonio Rudiger, without adequate replacements. Top spot will come down to either Chelsea or Athletico, and based on Chelsea’s current squad depth (aka very thin), Athletico are the team better able to deal with domestic responsibilities and gruelling European matchups. They certainly have quality, and thanks to no significant changes this squad has more chemistry than anyone can hope for. It will be close, but I’m giving Athletico the top spot
1st: Athletico Madrid
Thumbnail image courtesy of: The Sun
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