Midweek football returns for the first time this season as our European campaign begins at home. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton add the details…
‘At other clubs you have to go back two, three, five, six, ten years to remember good results,’ Jose Mourinho reminded people on Tuesday. ‘In our case you have to go back three months. Three months ago we were the best team in the country, the best manager, the best players.’
The Portuguese is also bidding to become the first manager to win ‘old big ears’ with three different clubs. Nevertheless Chelsea seek a first home win of the campaign at citadel Stamford Bridge in a competition that has not delivered an opening night victory for the past three seasons.
The most successful club in their country's history, Maccabi Tel Aviv last faced English opponents in the 2011/12 Europa League, finishing bottom in their group with just two points after 2-1 and 3-0 defeats by the Stoke City. The Yellow-and-Blue are 86th in UEFA’s club rankings, one place behind the Potters.
While this is the Blues’ 14th Champions League group stage, Maccabi Tel Aviv have reached this level for the first time since 2004/05, their only other appearance. There is a gulf in competition experience: 19-year-old Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek has more Champions League career minutes to his name than all but three of Maccabi’s squad.
The Israeli Double-winners progressed through three qualifying rounds despite failing to win an away match. Successive 2-1 defeats at Hibernians and Viktoria Plzen were followed by a 2-2 draw in Basel.
Basel have been a thorn in Chelsea sides in recent tournament encounters, which makes the Yellow-and-Blue’s achievement all the more creditable. Winger Eran Zahavi's 24th-minute equaliser in the 1-1 home draw with the Swiss was much celebrated in Israel, but it was his two away goals in Switzerland – one a late leveller at the end of seven minutes’ stoppage time – that secured Maccabi’s debut in the Champions League group stage.
The play-off decider, watched by 13,350, was at the Bloomfield Stadium in their home town. The Yellow-and-Blue are playing their home group games in the newly opened 30,800 capacity Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, 60 miles up the coast. It is also the national stadium.
UEFA have provided clarification to their many matchday officials on the offside law, regarding players attempting but failing to make contact with the ball while in an offside position. This was an International Football Association Board missive, so the enforcement applies to this competition as well as the Premier League.
Likewise a more consistent interpretation is being sought on handball decisions, especially regarding whether the offence is deliberate, and the distance and speed of the ball to hand.
Officials have also been urged to clamp down on dissent by players and benches, so expect some examples to be made early this season.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of one of the most pivotal moments in the history of Chelsea, though it is rarely mentioned. On Friday 24 June 1955 the club’s board were coerced into withdrawing their acceptance of an invitation to take part in an innovative new pan-European knockout competition, conceived by Gabriel Hanot and Jacques Goddet of l’Equipe.
The fateful decision itself is buried in the bureaucratic euphemisms of official records. Under the imprecise heading ‘European Inter-Clubs Cup Competition’, Football League minutes from the adjourned Ordinary General Meeting held at the Cafe Royal record the following:
‘The Secretary reported Chelsea FC had informed him that they had accepted an invitation to participate in this Competition between Clubs from European countries, and asked for the approval of the Management Committee.
‘Although of the opinion that they could not withhold permission, the Management Committee instructed the Secretary to ask Chelsea FC to give the matter further consideration, because they felt that their playing in such a competition would not be in the best interests of the League Competition.’
(In the next item, the Committee blocked Bristol City from taking part in a BBC-televised, FA-approved five-a-side football tournament.)
The outcome meant a double slap in the face that day for Chelsea and our Chairman, Joe Mears (pictured below), a member of the same Management Committee. The nephew of Chelsea’s founding father, Gus Mears, he had stood for election as League President at the start of the meeting, losing out to Vice-President and Wolves director, Arthur Oakley.
Shortly afterwards he was humiliatingly forced to withdraw his club from the debut season of what was to become the world’s most prestigious and coveted competition, the European Cup.
As Secretary of the champions elect of England, Chelsea’s John Battersby was the only British club representative who attended the Paris planning meetings in April, alongside the likes of Real Madrid and AC Milan, and he was elected to its committee.
The tournament received UEFA accreditation just three days before the Football League’s Little Englanders executed their own ‘Brexit’. Imagine if it had been Chelsea, not Real, whose name went round the world as first winners of this remarkable tournament in 1955/56; 2012 could have been our second trophy.
Our ‘best interests’ thwarted in summer 1955, it would be another 44 years before the Pensioners received an invitation again.
Chelsea are the highest English side in UEFA’s club rankings. The Blues are currently in fourth place, with Arsenal (seventh) the only other Premier League side in the top 10. The Gunners, our Saturday lunchtime visitors, are 850-odd miles away tonight playing Dinamo Zagreb in Group A.
The mean UK viewing figures for last season’s Barcelona-Juventus final were 497,000 on Sky Sports, 5.3 million on ITV. When Chelsea dramatically saw off hosts Bayern Munich in the 2012 showpiece, the average numbers were 1.5 and 8.2 million respectively. This year the final of the Champions League will be played at San Siro, Milan, on Saturday 28 May 2016.
Other Group G fixture
Tonight 7.45pm - Dynamo Kiev v Porto
WE HAVE HISTORY
This is our first competitive meeting against Maccabi Tel Aviv. Chelsea did, however, play a ‘Maccabi XI’ on the last of a three-match end of season tour of Israel on 6 May 1961. We won 5-2 with two goals each from Bobby Tambling and Barry Bridges, plus one from Frank Blunstone.
Our record against other Israeli teams is restricted to a single UEFA Cup tie against Maccabi’s rivals, Hapoel Tel Aviv. In the second leg at home, on 1 November 2001, the Blues needed to overturn a 0-2 loss.
A bright start was what was needed and the Israelis rode their luck as well as defending ferociously, with Mario Stanic and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink going close to an opener.
Ten minutes before half-time, though, a sucker punch from Slovenian international Milan Osterc, after William Gallas had ceded possession, made recovery even harder.
Claudio Ranieri gambled on three substitutions and a change of formation to 3-4-3 at half-time, but a first Chelsea goal did not come until past the hour, Gianfranco Zola’s curling shot equalising the game on the night. After that, goalkeeper Shavit Elimelech proved equal to anything the hosts could throw at him, and the evening ended in an ignominious second round exit for the Italian and his men.
Chelsea’s biggest home win in the Champions League
21/10/2014 Chelsea 6-0 Maribor Group stage
Maccabi’s biggest away win in the Champions League
10/08/2004 PAOK 0-3 Maccabi Tel Aviv Third qualifying round first leg
Chelsea should have Oscar back for the first time since his man-of-the-match performance against Swansea. The Brazilian often provides the spark of ingenuity and defence-splitting passes that have been lacking during the Blues’ recent travails. And he likes this competition, netting six times in his 23 Champions League games.
Jose Mourinho has also confirmed that left-back Baba Rahman should be involved in some way for the first time since his summer switch to the Bridge. The Ghana international has remarkable pace and enjoys defensive as well as attacking duties. The announcement suggests a shake-up for a defence that is yet to keep a clean sheet this season.
Maccabi’s number seven, centre-forward and skipper Eran Zahavi (pictured below), is their ‘best ever signing’ – according to Jordi Cruyff. Basel’s manager suggested his side were beaten single-handedly over the two play-off games by the prolific Israel international, top scorer in the qualification stage.
The undoubted star of Maccabi, he operates at the apex of their usual 4-1-4-1 system (they also line-up in other ways, such as 4-4-2). He enjoys an excellent understanding with Nikola Mitrovic, the advanced midfield playmaker alongside Nigeria international Nosa Igiebor. Mitrovic also links well with attacking right-back Yuval Shpungin.
The Israeli champions were far from their best at the weekend but salvaged a draw through defensive midfield anchor Gal Alberman’s powerful drive from the edge of the box.
Head coach Slavisa Jokanovic, the former Chelsea midfielder, appears to be extending the Israelis’ tactical vocabulary as well as ensuring they work as hard as his recently promoted Watford squad, and he will have a clearer idea of the stage of development after tonight.
Maccabi can play quite narrow, especially at the back, which is something Chelsea will be keen to exploit at the Bridge. The exception is inverted winger Tal Ben-Haim II down the right, another in their ranks who plays for his country.
Everyone at Chelsea (and Tottenham) knows from our recent encounters what difficult opponents Basel can be and Maccabi ceded possession and efforts on goal, five of them blocked by feverish defending, and the Swiss barely troubled their goalkeeper, Juan Pablo.
During his time at Sporting Gijon the same goalie faced Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid four times in the Primera, losing three. The only win among them ended the Special One’s nine-year unbeaten home league record.
Ever-present in the qualifying stage, Juan Pablo was left out of Maccabi’s Champions League squad and Jokanovic looks set to select teenager Pedrag Rajkovic, his new signing from Red Star Belgrade and a fellow countryman
Jokanovic was not one of several senior players who opted out of the UEFA Cup trip to Israel in October 2001, when a depleted side, featuring Joel Kitamirike in his only outing for the Blues went down 0-2.
The Serbian is not the only familiar face returning to the Bridge. Among his current team is 2007/08 Chelsea defender Tal Ben-Haim, who was playing for Bolton when we won the league for the first time in 50 years in 2005.
Asmir Begovic will continue between the posts in the absence of Thibaut Courtois. The Bosnian declared himself ‘really excited and honoured’ at the prospect of making his Champions League bow for the 2012 winners.
Jose Mourinho has also confirmed that a ‘little problem’ means he will be without Radamel Falcao this evening, leaving Diego Costa and Loic Remy as his senior strikers.
Maccabi’s recent recruit, attacking full-back Eli Dasa, is suspended for his sending-off in a Europa League qualifying round while with Beitar Jerusalem, so Yuval Shpungin will revert to the right.
CHELSEA IN NUMBERS
We start our 13th successive season in the Champions League and 14th overall. We have reached the semi-final seven times, including seasons when we made the final twice.
Last year Chelsea began with a 1-1 draw at home to Schalke and went on to win our group for the ninth time in our last 12 campaigns. We finished runners-up in two other years and failed to progress to the knockout stage just once, in 2012/13.
Our only previous European meeting with an Israeli team was in 2001/02 when we lost 1-3 on aggregate to Hapoel Tel Aviv in the UEFA Cup second round. Having lost 0-2 in Tel Aviv we returned to Stamford Bridge and drew 1-1 with an equalising goal from Gianfranco Zola.
Chelsea’s last ten years in Europe
2005/06 Champions League – round of 16
2006/07 Champions League – semi-final
2007/08 Champions League – runners-up
2008/09 Champions League – semi-final
2009/10 Champions League – round of 16
2010/11 Champions League – quarter-final
2011/12 Champions League – winners
2012/13 Europa League – winners (having transferred from the Champions League group stage)
2013/14 Champions League – semi-final
2014/15 Champions League – round of 16
2014/15 scorers (7)
Azpilicueta 1, Diego Costa 1, Falcao 1, Matic 1, Oscar 1, Pedro 1, own goal 1
Champions League games since
A home win: 1
A home draw: 0
A home defeat: 4
If selected, John Terry with make his 650th start for the Blues.
MACCABI TEL AVIV IN NUMBERS
21 Israeli league titles, last in 2015
23 Israeli Cups, last in 2015
4 Israeli League Cups, last in 2015
5 Israeli Super Cups, last in 1988
2 AFC Champions Leagues, last in 1971
Ligat Ha’Al Winners
Champions League Third qualifying round
Israeli Cup Winners
Toto League Cup Winners
Top scorer in all competitions: Eran Zahavi 33
Maccabi qualified for only their second Champions League group stage with their play-off victory against Basel.
Their only other Champions League campaign was in 2004/05 in a group with Bayern Munich, Juventus and Ajax. They came last but managed a home win against Ajax and a home draw with Juventus.
No Israeli side has ever made it to the knockout stages of the Champions League. They have won four of their 24 group games, all of these coming at home.
Captain Eran Zahavi has scored 13 of Maccabi’s 22 goals in all competitions this season.
In their domestic league this term, Slavisa Jokanovic’s side have won two and drawn one so far.
Maccabi have played only once previously against English opposition in European competition.
Europa League group stage
20/10/2011 Stoke (a) L 0-3
03/11/2011 Stoke (h) L 1-2
Ten-year European record
2005/06 UEFA Cup second qualifying round
2006/07 Did not qualify
2007/08 UEFA Cup second qualifying round
2008/09 Did not qualify
2009/10 Did not qualify
2010/11 Europa League play-offs
2011/12 Europa League group stage
2012/13 Did not qualify
2013/14 Europa League round of 32 (having transferred from Champions League third qualifying round)
2014/15 Europa League play-offs (having transferred from Champions League third qualifying round)
Champions League scorers:
Zahavi 7 (2 pens), Igiebor 2, Ben-Haim II 1, Itzhaki 1, own goal 1
Champions League games since
An away win: 1
An away draw: 0
An away defeat: 2
2015/16 domestic scorers
Zahavi 6, Ben-Haim II 2, Alberman 1, Igiebor 1
THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Referee Felix Zwayer, his assistant referees and additional assistant referees are from Germany. The 34-year-old earned his FIFA badge in 2012. This is his first match in the Champions League proper.
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s first choice right-back Eli Dasa is suspended.