Chelsea enter the final round of Champions League group stage matches knowing that even victory at home against Nordsjaelland on Wednesday (7.45pm GMT, live on Sky Sports) may not be enough to progress to the knockout stages.
The Blues are third in Group E with seven points from five matches. Top of the table Shakhtar Donetsk (10 points) host second placed Juventus (9) in the final round, with a draw or Juventus victory seeing both teams through at Chelsea’s expense.
The 3-0 defeat to Juventus in the penultimate round of matches created an unenviable scenario in which Chelsea are reliant on Shakhtar doing them a favour to avoid becoming the first reigning champions to fail to make it out of the group stage.
That result also did for last year’s Champions League winning manager Roberto Di Matteo, who was relieved of his duties the morning after the match and replaced with the former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez. An unpopular choice, Benitez has done little in his three matches in charge to date to suggest he will be winning over the supporters anytime soon.
Two 0-0 draws were followed on Saturday by defeat away to West Ham, a result that extended Chelsea’s winless streak to six matches in all competitions. Two displays of turgid attacking play were followed by one lacking backbone as Chelsea capitulated in the second half at Upton Park, conceding three times to slip to a 3-1 defeat.
There was a clear absence of defensive leadership in the absence of John Terry, but it was not just in defence that Chelsea faltered. They were outfought in midfield and had no-one who looked capable of stepping up to the plate to inspire the team the victory in the face of adversity.
The Blues are clearly in the midst of an awkward transition from the battle-hardened, Jose Mourinho-built side of Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba to a younger, more creative outfit. This is a transformation that Di Matteo was unable to successfully oversee and one that Benitez, too, is struggling with.
Benitez has conceded that he is already under pressure and will surely be glad for the opportunity to at least snap Chelsea’s winless streak with victory against Nordsjaelland in this match, regardless of whether or not that result allows the club to progress to the knockout stages.
Chelsea won 4-0 when the two sides met in Denmark at the start of October, two goals from Juan Mata and single strikes from David Luiz and Ramires seeing them to victory. The win was not quite as comfortable as the scoreline may suggest, but the Blues were nevertheless the better side and should be capable of emulating that result again here.
Nordsjaelland prop up Group E just with a solitary point to their name from their maiden Champions League campaign. They have lost both of their away matches to date, 2-0 and 4-0 respectively, and their goal difference of -13 is the joint-worst of all group stage teams.
Coach Kasper Hjulmand has tried to take positives from the campaign, emphasising what his side have learned from playing against top level sides instead of lingering on their failures. The Danish champions have made a good fist of all their matches and at least avoided the ignominy of finishing the group stage pointless thanks to a home draw against Juventus.
Hjulmand’s side have a top of the table clash against Kobenhavn coming up at the weekend. With nothing but pride to play for here, he could well elect to rest some of his key players in preparation for that match.
Chelsea v Nordsjaelland Betting Tips Verdict
Chelsea are in wretched form but have by far enough quality in their ranks to overcome a Nordsjaelland side who have conceded 16 times in their five group stage matches to date and are unlikely to be at full strength due to upcoming domestic commitments.
The result of other group match will determine whether or not Chelsea have a future in this year’s Champions League, but all the Blues can do is ensure they keep their side of the bargain by recording a comfortable victory at Stamford Bridge.