After Chelsea’s Premier League title aspirations suffered a significant blow at the weekend they now face the prospect of a tense evening on Tuesday that could yet end with their Champions League hopes extinguished.
A 1-1 result against Galatasaray in Istanbul three weeks ago was a perfectly credible result but it leaves the tie still very much on a knife-edge heading back to Stamford Bridge. Adding to the sense of discomfort for Jose Mourinho side is that the tie could and perhaps should be weighted decisively in their favor after the 90 minutes in Turkey.
Roberto Mancini had sent his Galatasaray side out in an offensive formation and with a suicidally high defensive line. Against a team that thrives on the counter attack, as they had recently shown devastatingly against Manchester City, it was difficult to know quite what the Italian’s thought process was.
The results were certainly predictable: Chelsea scored and had several more openings in transition. But as it was in defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday, the Londoners lacked the clinical edge of Mourinho’s original Chelsea incarnation. Were they able to call upon the man who was lining up against them, Didier Drogba, in his devastating pomp as well as a Frank Lampard still with the ability to regularly pop up at the right time in the opposition penalty area then the tie could well have been over by the interval.
As it was, Mancini saw the error of his ways, brought on an extra midfielder and his team had by far the better of the second half, claiming a deserved equalizer. The way in which Galatasaray were able to turn the tide so dramatically exposed another weakness in the Chelsea ranks. Mourinho acknowledged the void in his midfield in January when spending big to bring Nemanja Matic back to the club and the former Benfica man has made a major impact in the Premier League. His ineligibility for the Champions League poses a significant problem, however. Galatasaray’s three central midfielders were able to dominate in the second half, with Chelsea lacking a commanding presence.
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Mancini could well start with those same tactics on Tuesday, posing a conundrum for Mourinho. Does he set his side up to maximize their threat on the counter attack or try to ensure greater control in midfield?
In the first leg, with Ramires and Lampard deep, Eden Hazard, Willian and Andre Schurrle were selected to provide the pace and directness on the break. But when that attacking avenue was closed down, Chelsea struggled. The solution would perhaps be an easier one were Mourinho to have an in-form Oscar at his disposal. The Brazilian has the industry and creativity to help Chelsea with both aspects of the game, but after a strong start to the campaign he has been anonymous of late.
If David Luiz weren’t just returning to fitness, you wonder if Mourinho might select the Brazilian in midfield, given his passing acumen. Instead, Ramires and Lampard again look likely starters while Oscar should get another chance to regain his top form.
Mancini, too, faces a major conundrum. The ultra-expansive team he went with in the first leg is surely a no go, but Galatasaray will ultimately have to score at the Bridge. And, while they were on top in the second half at the Turk Telekom Arena, the only clear chances they created were from set pieces. The problem of fitting Drogba, Wesley Sneijder and top scorer Burak Yilmaz into a balanced team is always going to be a difficult one.
It is the fact that at some point Galatasaray will have to push for a goal that means Chelsea, despite their flaws, remain strong favorites to progress. While Galatasaray pushing forward will open up for space for Chelsea, the home side will also be going up a defense that is far from secure. Former Arsenal man Emmanuel Eboue is a notable weakness at right back, especially as he’ll be going up against Hazard. Some nervy moments are possible, but Chelsea should finish the night safely through to the last eight.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Galatasaray