A critical match in Group E highlights Matchday 5 in the UEFA Champions League as Schalke 04 will welcome Chelsea into the Veltins Arena. The German side tops the table in the Group with the maximum 6 points, after victories over Steaua Bucharest and FC Basel. Chelsea sits at three points after being shocked at home by Basel, before thrashing Bucharest in Romania.
Domestically, both clubs are starting to find their form, after slow starts. Schalke currently sits 5th in the Bundesliga table, nine points adrift of Bayern Munich. Chelsea is sitting third in the English Premier League, only two points adrift of Arsenal and Liverpool. Both teams won over the weekend, Schalke recorded a narrow 3-2 result over Eintracht Braunschweig. Chelsea had a much easier time, ripping apart Cardiff City 4-1 at Stamford Bridge.
Schalke likes to use the 4-2-3-1 formation, the preferred formation for most German clubs and the National team as well. Adam Szalai will most likely be the lone striker up front. The Hungarian International leads the club with 6 goals in all competitions and should be closely marked by the Chelsea defenders. An imposing figure, Szalai is excellent in the air, using his 6-4 frame to out-duel defenders for balls of corners and set-pieces. Schalke could Teemu Pukki as a substitute. Pukki, the Finnish International brings pace and versatility with a flair for panache. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will not be available as he is sidelined with a knee knock.
Julian Draxler is the talismanic figure in the midfield. A technical, yet superb playmaker, Draxler can strike from long distance, or deliver quality service from the left flank. Chelsea will need to be aware of Draxler at all times, as he can strike from anywhere on the pitch. Max Meyer will patrol the centre of the pitch. The 18-year-old German is new to this type of pressure, but he has held his end of the bargain so far. Christian Clemens is expected to man the right flank. Schalke could have Kevin Prince-Boateng back in the lineup, despite a knee injury that has plagued the Ghana International. If Prince-Boateng is indeed fit enough, he could slide into the team sheet ahead of Clemens.
The Royal Blues suffered a major blow as defensive midfielder Marco Hoeger is lost for the season, after tearing his cruciate ligament in his right knee. Hoeger partners with Roman Neustadter to form a strong holding midfield, but that is now terminated, thanks to Hoeger’s unfortunate injury. Young Leon Goretzka will most likely replace Hoeger in the starting eleven. The 18-year-old will be under considerable stress from the Chelsea attackers and how he handles the strain, could determine Schalke’s fate.
The back four is one of the rare spots for Schalke that have full health. Captain Benedikt Howedes and Brazilian Felipe Santos will be the central defenders. Japanese International Atsuto Uchida will be the right back. German International Dennis Aogo will be defending the left side. Joel Matip and Christian Fuchs are likely substitutes, if Schalke are ahead in the match, and need extra defenders.
Timo Hildebrand should be between the sticks, despite an injury that had him miss the weekend’s fixture. Although he has struggled at times, Hildebrand is the top keeper for Schalke, and his return his welcomed.
Chelsea will also lineup in a 4-2-3-1 formation that is now being favoured by Jose Mourinho. The Special One started using this formation recently, and has found success with it.
Fernando Torres is expected to be the lone striker. The Spaniard thrives on European competition as his 25 goals attest too. Torres is especially sharp at finding creases in the back, and striking with venom.
Eden Hazard is a rising star that fans should keep their eyes on. The Belgian midfielder is a superlative playmaker that can find the back of the net akin to some of the top strikers in the world. Hazard is coming off a successful International stint, as he was a major reason why Belgium qualified for the 2014 World Cup. Andre Schurrle returns to his homeland as a pivotal player for the West London side. Schurrle has been a difference maker for the Blues with his creativity and quality. Oscar can be erratic, but the Brazilian can produce moments of genius at the blink of an eye. Mourinho is hoping that Oscar has one of those moments in him on Tuesday.
David Luiz will be moved up to defensive midfield for this fixture. The Brazilian has been used as a defender, but is comfortable in the holding midfield spot. Another Brazilian, Ramires will partner up with Luiz in the midfield. Ramires is a sturdy player with intelligence on when to attack or drop back.
Branislav Ivanovic keeps getting better at the right back spot. The Serbian International is deadly on set-pieces and isn’t afraid on moving up to finish off a corner with his head. John Terry and Gary Cahill are expected to partner up in the central defence. Both are rugged defenders who aren’t afraid to make the physical tackle. Expect Ryan Bertrand to get the call at left back in place of Ashley Cole.
Petr Cech remains a top keeper but has shown signs of slipping. Still, Cech is better than most between the sticks, and Chelsea are better off with Cech than most.
If Schalke were fully fit, this would be an attractive fixture. Especially in Gelsenkirchen where the supporters are some of the loudest in Germany. Veltins Arena will be a great atmosphere but the injuries could be too much to overcome for Schalke. Chelsea are starting to find their form after a slow start, and are poised to make a move in Group E. I’m still expecting a close match as Schalke can never be counted out, but Chelsea will prevail 2-1.
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