On Wednesday evening, Sporting travel to Stamford Bridge to take on the already-qualified Chelsea in a crunch match that will decide whether they go through to the Round of 16 of the Champions League or not. They go into the game needing just one point to qualify as the group runners-up, having beaten Schalke (4-2) and Maribor (3-1) at home in their last two Champions League games.
In that last meeting between the two sides, ex-Benfica midfielder Nemanja Matic scored the only goal of the game at the Estádio José Alvalade in 0-1 loss, this coming in the second group game. However, despite the defeat, Sporting showed a good account of themselves, and perhaps even deserved to take a point from the game.
Since then, they have grown more and more in the competition and I think many would agree when I say they’ve been ‘like a breath of fresh air’ in the group stages. They have been able to play with little pressure, but also with a large amount of freedom, which has helped them greatly, something which you can see in the way they play and approach games.
Chelsea, as expected, have been the strongest side in the group and already have top spot wrapped up, so that could possibly influence Jose Mourinho’s approach to the game and starting line-up. In their last outing, they beat third-placed Schalke in a 5-0 away win, beating former boss Roberto Di Matteo in the process. I think Chelsea could be potentially be one of the favourites to win the competition this season.
For the match, Chelsea have Ramires missing through a thigh injury and Nathan Ake missing through a hamstring injury. Other than those two injuries, Jose Mourinho has more-or-less a fully fit squad available for Wednesday.
Sporting will have key players missing. Right back Cedric will miss the game through suspension, which would probably see Ricardo Esgaio replace him in the full-back position. Nani will also miss the game and probably the remaining games of 2014, after he picked up a thigh injury last Friday’s game away to Boavista. Nani will most likely prove to be the biggest loss to Sporting, the winger has racked up 4 gals in 5 appearances in this season’s competition.
Chelsea: Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Luis; Matic, Fabregas; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Costa.
Sporting: Patricio; Esgaio, Paulo Oliveira, Mauricio, Jefferson; Adrien, William, Joao Mario; Mane, Slimani, Carrillo.
I predict that there will be goals in this game and that it will be entertaining. Chelsea have only dropped 2 points in any competitive home game this season, that being the first group game of the Champions League against Schalke back in September, so it will be a tough ask for Sporting to get anything. However, I feel that they will manage to get the draw they so desperately need from the game in order to see them through to the Round of 16.