Chelsea begin the defence of their Champions League crown on Wednesday night when Italian champions Juventus visit Stamford Bridge. The Londoners, champions of Europe for the first time, will be seeking to become the first side in the Champions League era to defend the title.
Whereas last year Roberto di Matteo’s side reached and won the final in Munich through forming an organised and compact defensive unit, the Italian is this year tasked with taking on Europe’s finest with more style. Roman Abramovich craves the kind of exciting, attacking football that first made him fall in love with the game, but has had precious little of that during his time as Chelsea owner.
There have been some signs domestically that Chelsea are starting to develop a more expansive style. Eden Hazard is driving them forward, and his link up play with Juan Mata is key to a new system where attacking midfielders roam with more creativity and look to supply Fernando Torres with the chances he needs to restore his reputation as one of the game’s most feared forwards.
The visit of Juventus tomorrow night though will provide di Matteo with one of the sternest tests yet of his managerial skills. The Bianconeri are back in Europe’s elite and if their domestic form is anything to go by, they will be one of the trickiest tests Chelsea could have wished for. Juventus have not lost now in 42 Serie A games, stretching back to the 2010-11 season. They have lost just one of their last 47 in all competitions.
Juventus also play with a 3-5-2 system which will cause Chelsea all kinds of problems. The central midfield trio of Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo is one of the best on the continent, and provides solidity in front of a resolute defence. With Stephan Lichsteiner and KwadwoAsamoah their two full backs, Juventus have a compact and difficult unit to break down, and one which can be lethal on the break. Pirlo’s sweeping and accurate deliveries will cause Chelsea a tactical dilemma as Asamoah and Lichsteiner can bomb on down either flank and add width, linking up with Juventus’ two centre forwards on the break.
This is an unusual tactical system for Chelsea to find themselves up against, and di Matteowill have to use all his nous to find an answer. Unlike last year, the Italian must begin to find more expansive solutions to the problems Chelsea will face in Europe. That promises to be an intriguing test of his abilities.