Champions League | Stamford Bridge | Tue 18 Mar | 7:45pm
What a difference a loss makes. There Chelsea were, sailing along serenely atop the table after a ruthless 3-1 win at Fulham was followed by an even less sentimental 4-0 win over hapless Tottenham – these after a solid 1-1 draw at Galatasaray bucked the trend of English failure in Europe. All they had to do before finishing the job they started in Istanbul was negotiate a trip to Aston Villa, who'd lost twice as many home games as they'd won.
- Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea (Lge)
- Chelsea 4-0 Spurs (Lge)
- Fulham 1-3 Chelsea (Lge)
- G’tasaray 1-1 Chelsea (Cup)
- Chelsea 1-0 Everton (Lge)
- Karabukspor 0-0 G’tasaray (Lge)
- G’tasaray 6-1 Akhisar Bel' (Lge)
- Rizespor 1-1 G'tasaray (Lge)
- G’tasaray 1-1 Chelsea (Cup)
- G’tasaray 1-0 Besiktas (Lge)
Now, suddenly, it's a big week. After only a second defeat in 21 games – the first being in a strangely subdued FA Cup exit at Manchester City – Jose Mourinho's little foals might be regarding upcoming hurdles with increasing nervousness: "Look at the size of scary stallion Didier Drogba!" "How come Arsenal's thoroughbreds get to rest in the paddock all week while we run against these Turkish purebreds?" "Is it true that 'Ann Field' is a knacker's yard?"
The defeat at Villa Park could have long-lasting ramifications for Ramires, the midfield heartbeat who has started 27 of Chelsea's 30 league games: if banned for three matches, he'll miss the suddenly-enormous Arsenal game plus subsequent tests of strength against Crystal Palace and Stoke.
Against Galatasaray, Mourinho's midfield will be weakened by the cup-tied absence of impressive mid-term acquisition Nemanja Matic (league record with Chelsea before Villa: WDWWDWWW). The Blues will probably turn to Frank Lampard, whose adaptation to a deeper role hasn't quite been the revelation his old peer Steven Gerrard has orchestrated at Liverpool.
As for Galatasaray themselves, let's get one thing straight: it's not "Gala", at least not in Turkey, where they're always Cim Bom Bom, or Cim Bom among friends. (There's also no stress on the third syllable: saray means palace, Galata is an old placename.)
Turkish champions for a record 19th time, Cim Bom (we go way back) are five points off Fenerbahce's pace this season, not least because they've drawn three successive Süper Lig away games. That said, they haven't lost in 14 league games since November, and only once in that time have they conceded more than one goal – so Chelsea had better take their chances.
That might be another worry for Mourinho. Despite the seven goals slotted past Fulham and Spurs, Chelsea are frequently too blunt: only three times in 11 games have they scored more than once.
At Villa they only tested Brad Guzan twice; although they had more chances in Istanbul, thanks to an early lead given to them by Fernando Torres – deadly in Europe, deathly in England – their failure to double that lead cost them when the unmarked centre-back Aurelien Chedjou converted from close range, this after home skipper Selcuk Inan had hit the post.
At least Chelsea are back in west London. Fulham was their only away win in five attempts since that gauntlet-throwing league victory at Man City, but Mourinho has been as relentless as ever at Stamford Bridge: bar the Basel loss, Chelsea have won 17 and drawn two of their home games this season.
Considering Cim Bom's erratic recent form and terrible history in England (0 wins, 3 draws, 5 defeats), Mourinho's men should have enough to extend their Champions League campaign into the second week of April at least. It remains to be seen whether that helps or hinders their Premier League aspirations.
Player to watch: Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray)
Yeah, we know all the cameras will be pointing at Drogba, but we did him last time. And besides, if the Ivorian is to be supplied with a key pass it's likely to come from the boot of the Dutchman, who topped the attacking-third pass list in the first leg (17 completed out of 23: Chelsea's top boy Eden Hazard completed 7 of 12) and created an unparalleled 3 chances.
Sneijder also assisted Inter's opener in their 2010 Champions League win under Mourinho: "We know Mourinho very well, perhaps better than the Chelsea players know us," quoth Sneijder, presumably correctly.
Mourinho and Roberto Mancini may never be friends but they make for fascinating enemies. Mourinho won the battle of the pre-match quotes last time, countering Mancini's claim that he built Inter's European champions by listing six players bought after the Italian's exit: "he made a five-a-side team".
However, on the night Mourinho unusually lost the tactical face-off when Mancini made a 30th-minute substitution, replacing right-winger Izet Hajrovic with holding midfielder Yekta Kurtulus as he switched from an attacking 4-4-2 to a more cautious 4-1-4-1. The tighter home side immediately improved, and it will be interesting to see if Mancini repeats the idea at Stamford Bridge - from the start.
Facts and figures
- Chelsea are unbeaten against Galatasaray (W2 D1), scoring 7 goals and conceding only 1.
- Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 7 Champions League knockout games (W4, D3).
- The Blues have scored in each of their last 12 Champions League games at home. Manchester United were the last opposing side to keep a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge in the competition in April 2011.
- Galatasaray have never won in England in 8 trips in all competitions (D3 L5).
- Galatasaray have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 16 Champions League games away from home. The last time they didn’t concede on their travels was back in September 2002 against Lokomotiv Moscow.
- Drogba has scored more goals than any other player at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League (17).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Chelsea to squeeze through by one goal, as they have in seven of their last nine European knockout rounds… en route to two successive trophies. 1-0.
REAL MADRID VS SCHALKE
- Bayern are the only German side to have beaten Real at the Bernabeu in the Champions League (1999/00, 2000/01).
- Real Madrid have won 13 of their last 15 Champions League games at the Bernabeu, drawing the other two.
- Schalke have only scored one goal in three away games in the Champions League this season.
- Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has scored 5 goals in his last 7 Champions League starts.
Meanwhile, on Screen Two...
In a rubber deader than the deadest parrot floating on the Dead Sea, Real Madrid "protect" the 6-1 lead gained at Schalke. It's probably fair to say that neither side's mind will be fully on this game: Carlo Ancelotti's La Liga leaders will have one-and-a-half eyes on Sunday's Clasico with Barcelona, while Schalke are but a point behind second-placed Borussia Dortmund after the latter suffered a second defeat in four at the weekend.
"We have to play well [against Schalke] because it's a very important match," said Ancelotti after beating Malaga on Saturday, their 25th win in a 30-game unbeaten run. "We have to be consistent. Playing well is the best way to prepare for the Clasico."
"We will make a few changes because some players are physically tired," said Ancelotti, excusing Karim Benzema but naming Cristiano Ronaldo, Jese and Alvaro Morata among his expected starters. The Italian, chasing a treble in his first Spanish season, gave his squad some very high praise considering he has won two Champions Leagues and domestic titles in Italy, England and France: "I've coached many teams with a lot of quality. It's hard to say which is the best but this squad is the most complete: it has character, experience and youth."