[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] Chelsea's title defense begins Wednesday at Stamford Bridge against Juventus, the Italian champion that arrives unbeaten in its last 42 Serie A games ...
TV: Chelsea-Juventus (Wednesday: 2:45pm ET, Fox Soccer Channel)
Unbeaten first-place teams from Serie A and the EPL will be on the field for this Group E encounter when Chelsea opens hosting Juventus in London.
Roberto Di Matteo took over in midseason last year and guided a veteran Chelsea team to it first ever Champions League title in memorable fashion. The huge void left by Didier Drogba, now in China, has been filled by 21 year-old Eden Hazard. The $55 million Belgian playmaker was spectacular in the three EPL wins to start the season, with a goal and four assists, but Chelsea’s last two games haven’t been as memorable.
Atletico Madrid thrashed Chelsea 4-1 to win the Super Cup, former Atletico star Fernando Torres struggled while Colombian Falcao had a had trick by halftime in Monaco. On Saturday, after the international break, the handshakes that never happened between Anton Ferdinand and John Terry or Ashley Cole overshadowed Chelsea’s scoreless tie at QPR. Torres played poorly, and stormed into the locker room after being substituted in the 80th minute. Chelsea will look for the return of its Champions League magic on Wednesday.
Juventus won its first three league games by two goals or more, answering any lingering questions about the effect of Antonio Conte’s yearlong suspension. The first-year coach led Juventus to the only undefeated title in Serie A history last season, aided by Andrea Pirlo’s enduring brilliance.
Pirlo is still a handful in midfield, and he got new running mates this summer. Kwadwo Asamoah of Ghana transferred from Udinese and homegrown attacker Sebastian Giovinco returned from Parma. Juve trailed 1-0 in Genoa on Saturday when Asamoah came on at halftime, and he helped extend the perfect start by drawing a penalty and scoring a goal in a 3-1 comeback.
It should be a fascinating game, and both teams will have aspirations of playing at a different London stadium next spring. The 2013 Champions League final is at Wembley in May.
Notables: The other teams in Group E are Ukrainian power Shakhtar Donetsk and Champions League newcomer FC Nordsjaelland. Chelsea and Juventus will both expect to progress but can avoid the other group winners in the initial knockout phase by finishing first. Chelsea is looking to become the first European champion to repeat since AC Milan in 1989-90.