Chelsea needs helping hand in Champions League
(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
By STEVE DOUGLAS
AP Sports Writer
LONDON (AP) A season after spirit and good fortune swept Chelsea to an unlikely Champions League title, the defending champions will be relying on those same qualities to avoid an unprecedented elimination on Wednesday.
Chelsea must win at home against FC Nordsjaelland and hope Juventus loses at already-qualified Shakhtar Donetsk if the English team is to avoid becoming the first reigning champion to exit at the group stage.
The odds are stacked against Chelsea, especially considering its woeful form under Rafa Benitez since he came in as interim manager to replace the popular Roberto Di Matteo two weeks ago.
"I don't think it (would be) a miracle," Benitez said. "We have to do our job and wait for the other teams."
Chelsea is without a victory in Benitez's three matches and the Spaniard's pragmatic, defensive style of play hasn't endeared him to the Chelsea fans who are unhappy with the manner and abruptness of Di Matteo's dismissal.
Benitez has been jeered before, during and after each of his matches and even admitted after Saturday's 3-1 loss at West Ham in the Premier League that he didn't know whether he would survive his seven-month temporary stint.
"The message is always the same," Benitez said Tuesday. "I will try my best, I will try to win games for the club and (the fans), and for everyone around, and hopefully that will change the perception.
"If not, I'll try winning more games."
The problem for Benitez is that some of the key players behind Chelsea's title-winning campaign last season haven't been available to him.
Didier Drogba - the match-winner against Bayern Munich in the final - is no longer with the club while stalwarts John Terry and Frank Lampard have been out injured and will sit out Wednesday's game, too.
What Benitez has in his favor is Champions League know-how. He won the competition with Liverpool in 2005 and reached the final in 2007, with Benitez's team knocking Chelsea out at the semifinal stage in both years.
He is also the manager who has got the best out of Fernando Torres, during their time together at Liverpool. The Spain striker is in poor form at present, though, and is without a goal in nearly two months.
"We have been very good defensively this season," Torres told FIFA.com. "But in the middle, we have huge quality and those kinds of players have to be the key for us because we need to play for them and the strikers need to understand what they like to do to score more goals.
"It's just a matter of time and training."
Chelsea's destiny is out of his hands, though. Juve needs only a draw against a club that is already in the last 16, although Shahktar is insisting the team will play hard to finish at the top of the group.
"It's nice knowing that we've qualified for the knockout stage but we have one more and very important game to play to decide who will be first," Shahktar midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan said. "The fans will come to watch us succeed, and we will play for them."
Shakhtar will be hampered by the loss of forward Luiz Adriano, who is suspended after violating fair-play principles in the 5-2 win over Nordsjaelland.
Juventus defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Martin Caceres have recovered from injuries and have been included in Antonio Conte's 21-man squad.
"Our concentration, determination and hunger have to absolutely be strong to get a result that will enable us to progress and to keep dreaming in this competition, which is very close to our hearts," Juventus president Andrea Agnelli said.
Nordsjaelland has only one point from five games and cannot even qualify for the Europa League as a third-place finisher.
Updated December 4, 2012