Chelsea may have already lost more games in the Premier League than they did in all of last season’s title-winning campaign, but manager Jose Mourinho insists that he isn’t tempted to prioritize the Champions League. Indeed, the Portuguese believes that his side still has what it takes to land a clean sweep of four trophies this season.
Chelsea visit Dynamo Kiev in a vital contest on Tuesday evening, having won one and lost one of their first two matches in the Champions League group stage. It is in the Premier League where their poor start to the season threatens to have more severe consequences, however. Despite a 2-0 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday, Chelsea sit 12th in the table, 10 points adrift of leaders Manchester City. Yet Mourinho stated that it was far too dangerous to start putting all their eggs in the Champions League basket.
“When you prioritize in this league you have a big risk, which is the risk of not winning the Champions League and [not] finishing top four and not playing Champions League the next season,” he said at his pre-match press conference on Monday. So we cannot prioritize in this league. We have to go all the way and make sure we finish top four.”
Mourinho’s stance is also influenced by his refusal to yet rule Chelsea out of retaining the Premier League crown.
"We can win all four, we can lose all four,” he added. “Everything is open. We are in October. Everything is open.”
There will again be much more scrutiny on Mourinho’s team selection in the Ukrainian capital. The Chelsea coach dropped a number of his most prominent players at the weekend, most notably Eden Hazard. Mourinho later said that last season’s player of the year in England would have to prove that he was willing to do more defensive work. Yet an injury that now rules out Pedro could lead to the Belgian’s return.
Chelsea will begin Tuesday’s encounter in third place in Champions League Group G, a point behind both Dynamo Kiev and Porto. It has been a solid start for Dynamo, in what is their return to Europe’s top competition for the first time in three years after ending their six-year wait for a Ukrainian title last season.
They currently find themselves in second place this season, however, after losing 3-0 at home to rivals Shakhtar Donetsk last Friday. Still, Dynamo have plenty of experience of going up against Premier League opposition. In last year’s Europa League knockout phase they beat Everton 5-2 at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium. And they are also coached by former Tottenham and West Ham striker Sergei Rebrov.
“We will try to achieve the level of intensity that they have in the Premier League,” Rebrov said, according to Uefa.com. “In England you don't have more than two or three seconds to think on the pitch. Chelsea are used to that. We've studied their game and Chelsea have lots of good qualities. But they also have problems and we hope to capitalize on that.”
Prediction: One of the key battles could be Dynamo’s chief danger man Andriy Yarmolenko going up against Chelsea’s still raw left-back Baba Rahman. It certainly won’t be a straight forward fixture for Chelsea, especially as they were still a long way from last season’s form even in beating Aston Villa. Mourinho’s side will likely be more than happy to leave Ukraine with a point.
Predicted score: Dynamo Kiev 1-1 Chelsea
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Soccer Plus