Chelsea likely need to take all three points from their final Champions League group stage fixture at home to FC Porto on Wednesday if they are to make it through to the knockout rounds (7.45pm, live on BT Sport).
Group G is delicately poised coming into the final round of matches. Chelsea and Porto are joint leaders on 10 points apiece, while Dinamo Kiev are just two points behind in third and host pointless, bottom-placed side Maccabi Tel Aviv on Wednesday. If Kiev win and Chelsea fail to do so, Kiev and Porto would progress to the last 16 at Chelsea’s expense.
Porto therefore hold a key advantage coming into this match. Their 2-1 victory on home soil in September means that they are ahead in the head-to-head standings and can therefore be safe in the knowledge that a draw at Stamford Bridge will see them through. Chelsea, meanwhile, know that anything less than a win is unlikely to suffice.
It is the sort of the match from which Chelsea could have been expected to get the result they needed during their Premier League title success last season, but the way in which they have performed during the opening months of the current campaign suggests it would be wrong to assume that will be the case on Wednesday.
Jose Mourinho’s side are 14th in the Premier League table, just two points clear of the relegation zone and a full 14 shy of the top four. Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at home to Bournemouth was their eighth defeat of the league season and means that they have now lost more than they’ve won over their last 10 matches in all competitions.
There is also little to suggest that they are simply suffering from a run of bad luck. Chelsea are both less potent in attack and less solid in defence than they were last season, while individual players such as Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa (pictured) have performed well below their previous level. There are weaknesses in their set up that can be exposed by wily opponents.
Porto will, indeed, have taken heart from Bournemouth’s performance on Saturday. Mourinho took on his usual paranoiac tone in the wake of the defeat but the truth is that the two sides were evenly balanced in terms of chances and that Bournemouth always looked capable of creating something on the break whenever Chelsea committed men forward.
Given that they need just a point to go through to the last 16, Porto coach Julen Lopetegui will therefore approach Wednesday’s match with confidence. His side’s 2-0 defeat at home to Dynamo Kiev in their last Champions League outing was their only loss so far this season and they travel to London on the back of a good 2-1 win over Pacos de Ferreira on Saturday.
While an overtly defensive approach is unlikely to suit a side that has kept just one clean sheet in their five Champions League fixtures to date, Porto do carry a sufficient attacking threat to suggest that a relatively cautious approach could bear fruit if they are able to strike well on the counter-attack. In Jesus Corona, Vincent Aboubakar and Yacine Brahimi they have a trio of quick and tricky forwards capable of causing problems on the break.
The free transfer signings of Iker Casillas and Maxi Pereira have added some extra Champions League experience to a side who lost three important players when Alex Sandro, Danilo and Jackson Martinez departed this summer. While it is still, in general, a young and developing squad, their presence could be enough to tip the balance in Porto’s favour at Stamford Bridge.
It is now or never for Chelsea if they wish to keep their Champions League campaign going, but they have showed precious little so far this season to suggest that they are capable of doing what is required of them. Porto have their own weaknesses but can nevertheless be expected to secure their place in the last 16 by taking at least a point on Wednesday.