5 Keys to Chelsea Winning the Champions League
Chelsea's Premier League challenge appears to be all but over after a crucial 2-1 loss to Sunderland at the weekend. Although this will be a huge disappointment for those at the club, the Blues will now turn their attention toward their Champions League campaign, which remains very much alive.
If they are going to win Europe's biggest club competition this season, they will first have to defeat a tough Atletico Madrid side over two legs before overcoming one of Europe's elite clubs—either Real Madrid or Bayern Munich—in the final.
Although they are technically just three wins away from another night of European glory, the task at hand is much more difficult. Here are some of the key factors that will help Chelsea win the Champions League this year.
Without a doubt Chelsea's player of the season, Eden Hazard will be absolutely crucial in deciding the club's fate in Europe. And yet, with Hazard currently out with a calf injury sustained against Paris Saint-Germain, it might just be fate that decides the impact he is able to have.
Chelsea's star midfielder, who was recently shortlisted for both the PFA's Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards, is doubtful for the Blues' first leg against Atletico on Tuesday, but could return for the second leg eight days later.
With the three main strikers failing to find any sort of consistent form this season, Chelsea have relied heavily on Eden Hazard. Without him, especially against Sunderland, they have looked short of ideas when they require crucial goals.
Sunderland defended heavily against Chelsea, and Atletico Madrid will look to do the same as they are most dangerous on the quick counter-attack. As a result, the Blues will need Hazard's creativity to find a way through the defence.
And you can bet that, should they progress to the final, they will need him once again against whichever world-class team they face.
Avoiding Defeat in Spain
As already mentioned, in order to win the Champions League Chelsea will have to first make it past Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid. This will not happen if they fall at the first hurdle.
Despite the semi-final being played out over the course of two legs, with Chelsea having home advantage in the second leg, the first leg of a tie can make or break a team.
In the quarter-final against PSG, Chelsea gave themselves a mountain to climb after losing 3-1 to the Parisian outfit. If something similar happens on Tuesday, it will be incredibly difficult for Chelsea to turn it around.
Chelsea will want to score an away goal in Spain, but—more than this—they will want to avoid defeat. Against a team who is performing as well as Atletico are at present, only a win or a draw will do on Tuesday.
Dealing with Injuries and Fatigue
Chelsea have been fairly lucky so far this season when it comes to injuries. Eden Hazard is currently out of action, but his absence has been brief and should be over soon.
Should they progress, the Champions League final will be Chelsea's last game of the season, taking place on 24 May. Although there will be almost two weeks of recovery time from their last Premier League game on 11 May, any serious injuries could be detrimental to their hopes of securing a second Champions League trophy.
Likewise, any suspensions could do harm to their chances. John Terry famously missed Chelsea's showdown with Bayern Munich in the 2012 Champions League final and—though Chelsea were ultimately victorious—they would no doubt have benefited from the presence of their captain. Similar absences should be avoided this year.
Although both injuries and suspensions are generally more a matter of luck and circumstance than choice, the main thing that will decide whether Chelsea win the Champions League or not will be how they deal with them. And since the league is all but gone, perhaps key players should be rested in the upcoming domestic fixtures.
Branislav Ivanovic is suspended for Tuesday's match and logic puts Ashley Cole as the obvious man to step into the defence at left-back, with Cesar Azpilicueta moving over to the right.
Whether it is Cole who plays, or someone else altogether, this will be key to Chelsea's chances of success. Atletico and, in particular, Diego Costa will want to expose any defensive weaknesses that Chelsea may have. Although Cole is still a world class defender, such a lengthy spell on the sidelines will make anyone a bit rusty.
Even once Ivanovic returns, strength in defence is one of the most important aspects of any Champions League success story.
And if defensive strength is one of the most important aspects of a Champions League win, mental strength might just be the most important. There are a number of ways in which Chelsea will need to be mentally strong in the upcoming games.
Firstly, they have just come off of a massive loss—one that ended their title aspirations. Jose Mourinho is obviously aware of the detrimental effect that this can have on a team's morale, and he made the intelligent decision to praise—rather than criticise—his players after the defeat. Still, the players will have to recover quickly if they are to progress to the final of the Champions League.
Secondly, they will need to keep cool heads. As mentioned, suspensions can play a huge role in the outcome of a tournament like this one and if the Blues let their emotions get the better of them they may live to regret it. The players and coaching staff let their feathers get ruffled against Sunderland, and they must not let this happen again in the Champions League.
Finally, they will have to use mental strength to help them devote their energy towards a victory in Europe. There is an outside chance that Liverpool could slip up in the league, and it could be tempting to waste energy at Anfield next Sunday, but the most likely outcome for Chelsea is a season without a domestic trophy. Their only realistic chance of silverware is now the Champions League, and it is in this competition where they should direct their focus.