Chelsea seeks morale boost in Champions League

AP, Monday 31 Oct 2011

Chelsea gets the chance to overcome its miserable domestic form at Genk in the Champions League this week, with its opponent anchored to the bottom of the teams’ group

Chelsea's teammates (Photo: AP)

Saturday’s 5-3 home defeat to London rival Arsenal was Chelsea’s second straight loss in the Premier League. But Chelsea beat Genk 5-0 two weeks ago and the Belgian side’s record of just one point and no goals from three European matches suggests the Blues could hardly hope for better opponents.

Bayer Leverkusen will also try to put its poor home form behind it at Valencia in Wednesday’s other Group E match.

Real Madrid can advance with victory at Lyon, while defending champion Barcelona goes to Viktoria Plzen aiming to break a tie with AC Milan at the top of Group H.

Chelsea’s 1-0 Premier League loss against newly promoted Queens Park Rangers on Oct. 23 seemed to be only a minor aberration caused by two red cards— especially when the title-chasing Blues twice took the lead against Arsenal.

But uncharacteristic defensive frailties—with England captain John Terry culpable for the fourth Arsenal goal—led to a worst home defeat by Arsenal since 1934.

Chelsea has not kept a clean sheet since the opening day of the Premier League season and is nine points behind leader Manchester City, but manager Andre Villas-Boas does not intend changing the way his team plays.

“The philosophy is a personal value and a club value,” Villas-Boas said. “It is something that makes us all proud and we will stick to this philosophy. It is our way of playing and we are proud of the way we play. We just have to correct things.

“In the Champions League, the scenario is another one. We can get in a very good position if we win the game. We have a chance of qualifying if Leverkusen wins. It’s a different situation.”

But Leverkusen has failed to impress in Germany’s Bundesliga, with Friday’s scrappy 1-0 win over bottom-place Freiburg lifting last year’s runner-up only to eighth.

“At the moment we’re too indecisive going forward and we need to finish our moves better,” Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno said.

Former Germany captain Michael Ballack broke his nose Friday after scoring the winning goal, but hopes to play with a protective mask.

“Games use up a lot of energy, particularly with our small squad,” Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt said. “We need to recover quickly.”

Leverkusen has six points to Chelsea’s seven, but Valencia is just a point ahead of Genk and desperately needs victory to help prolong its European campaign.

“If we win we keep our options alive,” Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves said. “And that is why we must give it our all.”

Chelsea is among four English clubs in action, with Group F leader Arsenal hosting Marseille, Manchester City heading to Villarreal and Manchester United hosting Romania’s Otelul Galati.

City’s expensively assembled squad is cruising at the top of the Premier League but is less impressive in its debut Champions League season, sitting third in Group A.

But Villarreal’s injury problems have mounted with striker Marco Ruben and midfield duo Ruben “Cani” Garcia and Marcos Senna ruled out of Wednesday’s match. Javier Camunas is also doubtful with a right foot injury.

Villarreal, which has only won two games in all competitions this season, is already missing strikers Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar to long-term injuries.

Bayern Munich heads Group A and prepared for the visit of second-place Napoli by opening up a four-point lead in the Bundesliga with Saturday’s 4-0 win over Nuremberg.

Bayern has scored 33 goals without reply in its last eight matches at Allianz Arena.

“When we play like this we’re unstoppable,” striker Mario Gomez said after taking his tally to a league-leading 12.

Napoli has never won in Germany and Bayern could qualify with victory if City fails to win. But Bayern midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger could miss out after going off with a calf injury on Saturday, while defender Daniel van Buyten is also in doubt with a bruised right foot.

Borussia Dortmund, the other German club in action, is bottom of Group F and looking for its first win after losing to Olympiakos and Marseille, and drawing with Arsenal in its first Champions League season since 2002-03.

“It’s the most important (game) for us to date,” Dortmund defender Neven Subotic said. “We’ve gotten ourselves into a situation where we really need a win. The faster we score the better, because we only have three chances left.”

Manchester United is on course to qualify but must cope without central defender Chris Smalling and winger Ashley Young after the pair were ruled out injured.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola will have Spain midfielders Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas well rested since none played in Saturday’s 5-0 win over Mallorca. And Lionel Messi is back in form after hitting his 13th career hat trick, his second of the season, to take his season tally to 19 and help extend Barcelona’s 16-game unbeaten streak.

But even with defenders Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol back in the side, perfectionist Guardiola was unhappy.

“We ran too much,” Guardiola said. “We would have liked to have not pushed ourselves so hard.”

Barcelona has seven points, the same as Milan—which is at Belarus’ BATE Borisov.

Real Madrid heads to Lyon on the back of a perfect October that ended with a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad.

“We are in a positive phase and laying the foundations of something important,” Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso said. “We want everything to work well and for the games to be played on our terms.”

In Tuesday’s other matches, Zenit St. Petersburg hosts Shakhtar Donetsk and APOEL hosts FC Porto.

APOEL has failed to score in its last two home games but the surprise Group G leader remains undefeated in Champions League play through qualifying and the group stage.

“We have a very important challenge for us,” Midfielder Nuno Morais said. “(But) we look at this game as we did the other three before.”

Wednesday’s other games are Trabzonspor vs. CSKA Moscow; Inter Milan vs. Lille; Benfica vs. FC Basel; and Ajax vs. Dinamo Zagreb.

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