Chelsea’s 2012 Champions League winners Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic and Michael Essien have all given their verdict on this season’s group stage draw.
Ivanovic and Essien were on hand in Istanbul to conduct the draw for UEFA yesterday, placing Chelsea alongside Juventus, Zenit St Petersburg and Malmo in Group H.
Their former Blues team-mate Cech, who is now back at Stamford Bridge as our technical and performance advisor, was quick to point out after the draw that there will be no easy games for the Blues in this season’s competition, with our status as reigning champions meaning we will have a target on our backs.
‘You always have to respect the traditional teams like Juventus and you always have to respect every opponent you get in the group in the Champions League,’ said Cech. ‘These are big games and Zenit and Malmo will want to play their part in the group stage and give themselves a chance to get as many points as possible, so we have to respect that.
‘The players and staff and everybody knows that once you win something, you are always the one everybody wants to play against and it is a special motivation. It is always harder to retain titles so we know it’s going to be tough.
‘We go into the group as reigning champions and everybody will expect us to do well and we will have to live with that fact. You want to show that you can do it again and it’s not easy, but we have a great squad and people with experience so we know that we can cope with those expectations, now we have to prove it on the pitch.’
During the draw ceremony in Turkey, the recipients of a number of individual awards were revealed, with Thomas Tuchel being named UEFA Men’s Coach of the Year and Jorginho as UEFA Men’s Player of the Year, as well as Edouard Mendy and N’Golo Kante being voted as the best in their positions in last season’s Champions League.
‘We’ve been really proud of all the squad and obviously you always have individuals who within a very strong team stand out and we are all very happy for Edou, for Jorginho, for N’Golo, to win their awards, because I think they truly deserve it,’ added Cech. ‘You always play for collective trophies, but it’s nice as a player when you get recognised individually, it just adds to the motivation and satisfaction.’
The draw will have brought back fond memories for Essien, who scored a crucial goal away at Juventus in a 3-2 aggregate win over them in the 2009 Champions League last 16, and the Ghanaian confirmed he will be cheering the Blues on to progress through the group and defend our title.
‘I’ll be hoping Chelsea go through but it’s not an easy group,' said Essien. 'Juventus are there and Malmo is going to be a difficult game, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Chelsea. I will be cheering for them to win back-to-back Champions Leagues because if they manage to do that it is going to be a very big achievement for the football club. They have a good squad and having Lukaku back they are well prepared to push for it, so hopefully they can win it.’
Ivanovic’s attention will be split between Chelsea and Zenit St Petersburg as two of his former clubs meet in the group stage, with the Serbian also having scored the first-ever goal at the latter’s new stadium, which will host this season’s final.
‘It’s an exciting draw,’ he added. ‘My two ex-teams are in the same group and this is going to be very interesting to see the games. I was very proud to score the first official goal in history at Zenit’s stadium. The stadium is really incredible and I hope everyone will enjoy the great atmosphere. It is one of the best stadiums I ever played in.’