All, or at the very least some, of Chelsea and manager Jose Mourinho’s domestic woes could be wiped away if they manage to start Champions League Group G play with a victory over Maccabi Tel-Aviv Tuesday at Stamford Bridge.
With a mere four points in five matches marking their worst start in 29 years, the defending Premier League champion Blues find themselves near the bottom of the table and Mourinho already removed several top stars before squaring off with the Israeli side.
The decision to sit top striker Diego Costa and defenders John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, as well as midfielder Nemanja Matic, has more to do with rest prior to Saturday’s pivotal clash with Arsenal rather than Mourinho punishing his stars for poor performances.
"I know people will say if I leave out a player it's because I have a problem with him," Mourinho told reporters. "But I cannot be worried about what people say. I will make a couple of changes because I have to try a different dynamic, a couple of different faces."
Chelsea could instead tap newly acquired defender Baba Rahman in his debut, with midfielder Oscar and forward Loic Remy also inserted in the starting lineup.
Injuries to forwards Radamel Falcao and Pedro could limit the Blues attack, but goalkeeping may be a problem as well. No. 1 keeper Thibaut Courtois suffered a torn a meniscus in his right knee and may be out until January, which puts Asmir Begovic in the starting position after his poor 3-0 loss to Everton over the weekend.
Maccabi manager Slavisa Jokanovic, himself a former Chelsea player in the early 2000s, leads the squad into Champions League for the first time in 11 years and he expects Chelsea to provide a significant challenge to his side.
“It’s a little bit of an embarrassing start for them, but they’re going to be 100% motivated to try to fix their problems,” Jokanovic said. “There could be some nerves in the stadium at the beginning of the game, but I’m sure they will find a solution soon. We need to arrive there, respect our supporters and respect ourselves – fully concentrated and following our plan to try and hurt them.”
With the benefit of a completely healthy roster, Maccabi enter the match following impressive victories over Hibernians, Viktoria Plzen, and Basel to break in to the group stages.
Attacking midfielder Eran Zehavi anchors the attack with seven goals scored, with Nosa Igiebor, Tal Ben Haim, and Barak Yitzakhi each finding the back of the net and capable of hurting a Blues backline that’s struggled to find its form.
Kickoff Time: 2:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Regional Fox Sports channels
Live Online: FoxSoccer2Go
Prediction: Chelsea over Maccabi Tel-Aviv, 2-1