Chelsea v Juventus
First Leg: Stamford Bridge, Wednesday, February 25 2009.
Second Leg: Stadio Olimpico de Torino, Tuesday, March 10 2009.
The fraternity of “Former Chelsea Managers” is already a large group, and it got even bigger when they fired Luiz Felipe Scolari after a run of poor results that took Chelsea from 2nd place to 4th, including a humiliating loss at Old Trafford, a devastating loss at Anfield, and lackluster draws against Everton and Hull City. Now, they’ll welcome back another former manager as Claudio Ranieri will return to Stamford Bridge at the helm of Juventus.
Chelsea’s problems have been well-chronicled. Their best players are aging. Didier Drogba seems like he’d rather watch last year’s Champions League Final on an infinite loop than keep plying his trade with the Blues. Petr Cech doesn’t look anything like the man who was once considered the best goalkeeper in the world. Joe Cole, who gave Chelsea much needed width and offensive versatility, is out for the year. Nicholas Anelka only seems to play well against bad teams. Deco looks so bad that Barcelona look like genuises for being able to get £8 million for him. Ballack looks like he’s done as an elite player. It seems like things couldn’t get any worse for them.
Then again, they could very well be the sleeping giant that no one wants to wake, at least when it comes to Europe. The slower pace of European matches should suit some of their older players, and their experience should be a major asset. Plus, new manager Guus Hiddink is known as a tactical genius, an area where Scolari lacked credibility, and could be the one who finally figures out how to win with the team’s preferred 4-5-1 formation, or maybe he could be the one who finally figures out how to play Drogba and Anelka together. With all of Chelsea’s talent, only a fool would count them out.
Juventus, on the other hand, are enjoying a solid domestic and international campaign in their first season back in European play after the Calciopoli scandal. They’ve been in second place for most of the season, trailing Inter Milan by seven points after the 23rd week of the season. They’ve been slumping, as of late, losing to Udinese and Cagliari, and are in danger of ceding second-place to in-form A.C. Milan. Their European form has been impressive, however, as they went unbeaten in the group phase and defeated Real Madrid twice.
They have plenty of experience, as Pavel Nedved, Mauro Camoranesi, and Alessandro Del Piero continue to play well for Juventus, while younger players like Vincenzo Iaquinta, Giorgio Chiellini, and Serie A’s third-leading scorer Amauri (11 goals – tied with Kaka) have stepped up. Plus, they have the best goalkeeper in the world in Gigi Buffon. If they can keep a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge, then you would have to give them the edge for the reverse fixture in Turin. With the way Chelsea have been playing at home, then that’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
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