New manager, same result.
In September, Chelsea parted ways with Jose Mourinho, who had guided the club to two semifinal appearances and another appearance in the Champions League round of 16 in three seasons, after Claudio Ranieri led the Blues to a place in the semifinals in 2003/04, the season before Mourinho’s arrival.
Well, Avram Grant’s picked up where his predecessors left off, leading Chelsea to another place in the last 16.
While this stage is nothing new to Chelsea fans, Olympiakos supporters are no doubt basking in their side’s advancement to this stage.
The last time they made it this far was in 1998-99, when they advanced to the quarterfinals, and were minutes away from defeating Juventus to reach the semifinals.
Both sides are in the midst of title challenges as they prepare for their encounter, as Chelsea are chasing Arsenal and Manchester United in the Premier League, and Olympiakos are tangling with fierce rivals AEK Athens and Panathinaikos in the Greek Super League.
This season has tested Chelsea’s resolve, as they’ve dealt with injuries to several key players, with John Terry (when is he not injured?), Frank Lampard, Andrei Shevchenko, and Didier Drogba all spending significant time laid up due to injury.
While Shevchenko and Terry may not be in the lineup by the time the first leg rolls around, Grant will have the services of Lampard, who made his return in Chelsea’s 0-0 draw against Liverpool on Sunday.
Grant should also be buoyed by the recent form of Shaun Wright-Phillips, who may be on the best run of his Chelsea career, and by his two Ivorian forwards, Drogba and Salomon Kalou, who will be rested up from a successful (individually – both had three goals) African Cup of Nations campaign by next Tuesday. Their returns will definitely be a boost to the Chelsea lineup, as Nicolas Anelka, as good as he is, can’t do it all on his own, and Claudio Pizarro, he’s been the only other fit/experienced/present striker recently…and he’s coming off of the bench more often than not.
It will be interesting to see how well Drogba and Anelka link up, given that the deal wasn’t completed until Drogba had already departed for Africa, and depending on what lineup Grant uses in the FA Cup tie against Huddersfield on Saturday, the first leg in Greece on the 19th could actually be the first time the two partner up. That in itself might be a frightening prospect, either for Olympiakos, if the two pour in the goals together right off of the bat, or for Chelsea, considering that they haven’t exactly been blowing anyone away this season, and if their opponents get it going on the attacking end, and they don’t, then it could spell t-r-o-u-b-l-e for the Blues.
With that said, you certainly have to give the Greek side a sporting chance in thsi one, as they made quite an impression in finishing runner-up in Group C behind Real Madrid and ahead of Werder Bremen and Lazio.
A great part of that was due to their strong play away from home, where they had historically struggled in Europe. Olympiakos defeated both Werder Bremen and Lazio away, and had Real Madrid on the ropes, as they held a 2-1 lead until Real scored three goals in the final 20+ minutes.
On the other hand, Takis Lemonis’ side is very strong at home, both in Europe and overall, and are unbeaten at home this season, including a win and two draws in Europe.
It won’t be a surprise if Olympiakos come away with a lead after the first leg, and that’s what they need to do in order to put a serious scare into Chelsea.
Veteran striker Darko Kovacevic (16 goals this season), former Newcastle and Portsmouth man Lomana Lua Lua (who has experienced a career resurgence in Greece), and midfielder Ieroklis Stoltidis should give Chelsea’s back line a hard time, but for the Greek champions, not allowing goals in Greece is a lot more important than scoring them. As nice as a win may be, if it comes with you giving up at least a couple of goals, then it’s going to make for an extremely tense 90 minutes.
Chelsea don’t taste defeat very often at home, so if Olympiakos fall behind in the home leg, they might be done for. But, if they do go to London with an advantage after the first leg, then channeling this year’s away fortunes and not their past is a must.
However, given how Olympiakos’ fortunes have turned for the better in Europe this season, Grant and his men need to be on upset alert, because at this stage of the competition, there aren’t any bad teams, and you can get dumped out just like that.
But, while the Greek side should acquit themselves quite well against one of Europe’s best, Chelsea should be able to progress. While they haven’t shown it on a regular basis this season (thanks to one thing or another, injuries, inconsistency, absences), their attack is pretty formidable, especially with Drogba and Kalou in form, and a healthy Lampard back in the lineup. Besides that, even without Terry, their defense has done an admirable job, and should be up to the task.
Go back to the full 16-team 2007/2008 UEFA Champions League 2nd Round Preview on Soccerlens.