Just one point stands between Chelsea and progression to the UEFA Champion’s League as group winners.
A fairly simple proposition on paper, but things have been far from simple lately at Stamford Bridge.
Three defeats in the last four games and a worrying drought in front of goal, with only five goals scored in the previous six domestic outings, has left Carlo Ancelotti and his squad reeling as the media vultures gather around the club.
Let’s not forget Twittergate either, with an unfortunate rumour spreading about the Italian’s short-term future in the Blues’ hot-seat.
Assurances may have been made that Carletto intends to stay at the club, but everything has certainly gone awry of late, and a tonic is needed.
So what better time than to face a team who are on course to clock up the worst statistical European Cup group stage on record, and have the opportunity to rotate a tired and stretched squad?
Ancelotti will use the clash against MSK Zilina to give a full debut to 17 year-old midfielder Josh McEachran, thus far limited to a little more than half a dozen substitute appearances.
His cameo outings have left fans salivating at the mouth, keen to see more of a home-grown youngster, and it’s perhaps fitting that his first start will come against the same opposition who featured in his first professional outing earlier in the season.
Elsewhere Jeffrey Bruma will deputise for Alex, who is being nursed through knee trouble until the squad is back up to sufficient strength for him to undergo surgery. It will be the Dutch Under-21 international’s first involvement in continental competition.
Patrick van Aanholt and Gael Kakuta are also likely to be involved whilst Ross Turnbull will afford Petr Cech a rest in goal. Michael Essien, meanwhile, will miss out with a toe injury after sitting out the previous two league outings suspended.
The Ghanaian joins Yury Zhirkov, Frank Lampard, John Terry, and Yossi Benayoun on the sidelines, and with numbers stretched once again, the opportunity for a group of Steve Holland’s reserves to take their places amongst the substitutes will become apparent.
Zilina have found their debut campaign in the competition proper a nightmarish experience. Bottom of the group with four straight defeats, they have shipped seventeen goals, including seven last time out at home to Marseille.
Their solitary goal came against Chelsea as a consolation effort in a 4-1 defeat, where a brace from Nicolas Anelka and one from Essien before half time and a fourth from Daniel Sturridge put the Slovakians to the sword.
Manager Pavel Hapal is likely to use a 4-1-4-1 formation with Tomáš Oravec ploughing the lone furrow in attack, with the emphasis of their journey to England sure to be to attain respectability and to make life tough for their illustrious hosts.
Chelsea enter the match as overwhelming favourites, but exercise a note of caution ahead of this tie. A year ago, a seemingly routine match at home to APOEL Nicosia finished 2-2 and saw Essien sidelined for the rest of the season.
A few years previous, a lowly-attended group game against Rosenborg finished 1-1 and saw the departure of Jose Mourinho hours later. With a number of blue seats expected to be empty this evening, let’s hope that lightning doesn’t strike again.
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