After beginning the Premier League season in ominous form, Chelsea will look to get up and running in the Champions League when Schalke visit Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. As at home, Chelsea fell short in Europe last season, losing in the semifinals to Atletico Madrid. For manager Jose Mourinho, the match with Schalke represents the start of another chance to become the first coach in history to win the Champions League with three different clubs, having already lifted the trophy with Porto and Inter Milan. But the Portuguese insists he is only thinking about negotiating a group that also includes Sporting Lisbon and Maribor.
“In this moment I only think about not playing in the Europa League,” he said, according to Chelsea’s official website. “I want my club to succeed in the group phase. It would be very bad for the level of the group to go to the Europa League.
“Do I want to win it again? Of course I want to. The tournament is part of my history and, even if they don’t sometimes know it, I am a part of the tournament’s history. But my motivation is always the same. What drives me is to try to win. I work for my club, for my players and for my supporters, not for myself.”
The memories of dropping into the Europa League will still linger prominently in the minds of many of Mourinho’s squad. Having won the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history in 2012, Chelsea suffered the ignominy of dropping into Europe’s second competition the following season. But with big summer signings Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas hitting the ground running to help their new side to four straight victories to start the Premier League season, Chelsea begin the Champions League as one of the undoubted favorites to lit the trophy in Berlin.
Schalke have extra motivation to be a part of the final in their homeland, but such an objective currently looks a very distant possibility. Coach Jens Keller is already under pressure after Schalke began the season by taking just one point from three games in the Bundesliga as well as being dumped out of the German Cup by third-tier Dynamo Dresden. As if that weren’t bad enough, Keller will also have to deal with an injury crisis that is particularly bad in defense, where captain and World Cup winner Benedikt Howedes has joined Joel Matip and Felipe Santana on the sidelines.
“It's very difficult if you lose your captain and for the rest of the defenders he is a very important player,” he said, reports Uefa.com. “We will just have to put four players into the back four, but we still have a little bit of time to consider our options and what solutions we have open to us. I don't know how long he will be missing for. He is a very important player for us and he is very confident after winning the World Cup, plus we have lots of games ahead. Hopefully it won't be too long.”
Schalke don’t have the best memories of facing Chelsea, having lost both games 3-0 to the London side when they met in the group phase a year ago, although Keller believes his squad has learned the lessons from those defeats.
“We've learnt [from previous games against Chelsea] that mistakes get punished,” he added. “We learnt that home and away last season. We know they're a top team and now with the new acquisitions they've made they are even more so.”
Prediction: Chelsea have been unusually less than watertight at the back at the start of the season and Schalke, led by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, have the attacking weapons to get on the score sheet at Stamford Bridge. But the German side is in woeful form and should be comfortably overwhelmed by a Chelsea team that has been greatly enhanced by Costa’s predatory instincts and Fabregas’ extra creativity.
Chelsea 3-1 Schalke
Kickoff time: 2.45 p.m. ET
TV channel: Fox Sports 2