Tuesday 12 December 2017

Wounded Blues wary of ambush

Steve Tongue

Sometimes a fixture comes along at just the right time.

Chelsea are hoping that tonight's Champions League match against opposition they brushed aside 5-0 a fortnight ago comes into that category, although those who worry about tempting fate may still find cause for unease.

At Stamford Bridge, KRC Genk looked exactly like a team who had scraped into the group stages for the first time in nine years -- which they did by beating Maccabi Haifa on penalties -- and believed they should not be sharing a stage with the likes of Chelsea.

Rankings based on 20 years of the Champions League put them in 95th place, which appeared flattering if anything as they conceded two goals in the first 12 minutes, four by half-time and five in all. Finishing fourth in the group on their only previous appearance, they sit in the same position after three games, without having scored a goal.

Why worry? Only because just as Chelsea were hitting a low point in their season last Saturday, with the evisceration by Arsenal, Genk struck a new high.


Losing 4-2 away to third-placed Bruges with 20 minutes to play, they scored three times for a memorable victory as Kevin de Bruyne, the half-English midfielder desperate to impress Chelsea, completed a hat-trick.

Suddenly, at the Belgian champions' training ground yesterday, the mood was more buoyant.

"We take with us the excellent feeling of our victory over Bruges," the coach Mario Been said. "That is very important. Of course we play against a club that can easily line up three different teams, all of them top European players. But we will take on the game differently than the first leg.

"We showed way too much respect for the opponent. We played backward instead of forward. At home, in front of a capacity crowd, we will have our chances, I'm sure. The only thing we have to do is to cash in on at least one of them. And we do have the quality to do that."

De Bruyne, who has claimed a deal to take him to west London was close last summer, was playing down his three fine goals at the weekend, but he is clearly determined to make more of this audition than he did in the first game. "We gained a lot of confidence in the Bruges game and I scored three times. But we won as a team," he said. "And we have to take on Chelsea as a team. What have we got to lose? Playing against this type of top team is a player's dream."

Sensibly, he is playing down his personal ambitions. "My relationship with Chelsea is not important. So far nothing has been signed. Genk is the only thing that counts, let's keep it at that."

With Jose Bosingwa having played so poorly against Arsenal, it is possible that De Bruyne will again find himself up against the more powerful Branislav Ivanovic, who was not much better on Saturday, but kept the young Belgian quiet in the first game as well as heading one of Chelsea's goals.

John Terry was rested on the first occasion these sides met but will not willingly miss out this time. His partner could be either Alex, who has not so far found much favour with Andre Villas-Boas, or David Luiz.

Other candidates for demotion are John Obi Mikel, Ramires and Daniel Sturridge, while Juan Mata or even Frank Lampard could be rested. Didier Drogba did not travel after having treatment on an elbow injury, so Fernando Torres should have the chance to build on his two goals and much improved performance against the Belgians last time. One of the reasons Genk are little known is that they were founded only in 1988, by a merger of two older clubs, both of whom had famous confrontations with British teams.

One, Winterslag, knocked Arsenal out of the Uefa Cup in 1981, and the other, Waterschei, lost 5-1 to Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen in the semi-final of the 1983 Cup-Winners' Cup -- which the Scottish side went on to lift.

A full house of 21,500 at the modest Cristal Stadium will be another encouraging factor for Genk, whose fans performed infinitely better than their team in London. Chelsea, if they concentrate better than on Saturday, should nevertheless be too strong for them again. (© Independent News Service)

Genk v Chelsea,

Live, Sky Sports 4/Setanta Ire, 7.45

Irish Independent

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