[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] The defending champions are at Juventus Stadium on Tuesday for a high stakes showdown between two tournament favorites, Chelsea and Juventus, who both trail a very dangerous Shakhtar Donetsk team in Group E.
TV: Juventus-Chelsea (Tuesday, Fox Soccer Channel 2:45pm ET)
Chelsea and Juventus finished, 2-2, at Stamford Bridge two months ago in a thrilling game featuring a miraculous second goal fromOscar, and a gritty comeback from two down by Juve.
The Serie A champions beat FC Nordsjaelland 4-0 in Turin two weeks ago during round four, when Chelsea could’ve easily lost in London, but Victor Moses’ 94th minute header sunk Shakhtar 3-2.
Group E: Shakthar has 7 points, Chelsea 7, Juve 6 and FCN has 1 point. UCL group stages emphasize head-to-head tiebreaking, like the Euros, also run by UEFA, so Shakhtar’s away goals trump Chelsea’s superior goal difference.
Chelsea enters Tuesday’s game in a bit of disarray. Having dropped from first to third in the English Premier League, the Blues lone victory since Oct. 20, outside the League Cup, was their narrow win over Shakhtar, a stretch including two losses and two ties in the EPL, and a 2-1 defeat at Shakhtar.
Roberto Di Matteo tried to rest Oscar, Juan Mata and Ramires on Saturday, but the coach brought on all three chasing points in a 2-1 loss at West Brom, where arguments in the locker room after the game were audible outside. Suddenly under fire, Di Matteo acknowledged he might bench Fernando Torres on Tuesday. “If I believe it is the right thing to do for the team, then yeah, I will leave him out,” Di Matteo said.
It will also be interesting to see if Chelsea's coach sticks with his creative trio of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Mata, or favors the experience of Frank Lampard. Ashley Cole returns, while John Terry’s injury keeps Gary Cahill and David Luiz paired in defense
Inter Milan snapped Juve’s incredible unbeaten streak in Serie A at 49 games on Nov. 3, but that is its only defeat in any competition this season. Juventus dominated a scoreless tie with Lazio on Saturday but failed to break through. Now four points clear in Serie A, summer signings Kwadwo Asamoah, Sebastian Giovinco, Mauricio Isla andPaul Pogba have all contributed. Asamoah’s energy from his wingback position on the left has been a particularly valuable addition.
What to watch: Chelsea is struggling, seemingly devoid of several things Juve has in bunches: chemistry, toughness, experience, and boundless energy. The Italian team will look to wear down its visitors and ride its emotional crowd. Chelsea has youth, and talent, but may need some of last season’s magic to get a result in Turin.
Juve finishes at group leading Shakhtar while Chelsea hosts FCN, which it beat 4-0 on the road. Chelsea would be very happy with a point, while Juve’s going to be chasing all three, to avoid a must win game in Ukraine.
How to escape Group E: Chelsea progresses with a win. Chelsea, Shakhtar and Juventus will each advance with 4 points in their last two games. If Shakhtar wins at FCN and Chelsea/Juve produces a winner, Shakthar advances -- Juve is eliminated by losing in this scenario.
Notes: Since the tournament changed format in 1992, and adopted the Champions League name, no defending champion has been eliminated in the group stages -- or repeated its title. Juve’s coach, Antonio Conte had his season-long suspension reduced to four months, it ends Dec. 9 ...
Big Goal: FCN has allowed 11 goals and scored only one, but it came in 1-1 tie at home with Juve.