GMS Academy member Brendan Bernegger continues his Champions League preview by focusing on Group E.
Chelsea crashed out of the Champions League last year as they finished third place in their group. It was a tough time for the 2012 winners as they were going through a coaching transitional period. Despite finishing third, Chelsea made the best of an embarrassing situation and won the Europa League. With everything set and in place, Chelsea is another team that is dangerous in this campaign.
Now that former manager Jose Mourinho is returning to a place where people love him, Chelsea could easily be a semi-finalist contender. Chelsea went out this transfer window and finally got a striker who knows Champions League football. After spending two years at Anzhi Makhachkala, Samuel Eto'o has linked up with his former manager.
The 32-year-old has won the Champions League three times, twice with Barcelona and once with Inter, that same Inter team that Jose Mourinho coached. Chelsea added fire power to their midfield as they signed Dutchman Marco van Ginkel and Brazilian mastermind Willian. Like Eto'o, Willian also joined from Anzhi after spending seven months at the club.
Some Chelsea fans will remember Willian from last year`s Champions League as he scored both of Shakhtar's goal. Shakhtar was about to take a point in London before Victor Moses scored a last minute go ahead goal to give Chelsea three points. Chelsea has an easier group than last year but still have some competition. Schalke, Basel and Steaua Bucharest are teams that will put up a fight. Chelsea opens up their campaign at home against Basel on the 18th of September. Mourinho is back, and so is Chelsea. Expect nothing less than a group win.
After beating P.A.O.K. in the Champions League playoff round, Schalke return to the big stage. Schalke last year finished two points ahead of Arsenal in Group B and won their whole group. Former manager, Huub Stevens most notably led "Die Königsblauen" to a 2-0 win in London against Arsenal. Despite winning their group, Schalke lost to Galatasaray 4-3 on aggregate in the Round of 16.
Schalke was a very active team this transfer window. They secured the likes of youngster Leon Goretzka, Adam Szalai, Felipe Santana, and lastly Kevin Prince Boateng. Schalke paid €10 million for Boateng,and will have an enormous effect on their midfield. Klass-Jan Huntelaar will just be back in time as he is recovering from an injury he picked up in Schalke's 4-0 loss to Wolfsburg. Schalke has great youth talent, that is mixed with experienced players. 19 year old Julian Draxler is a key playmaker for Schalke despite being so young.
The midfield of Schalke will cause a lot of trouble for opposing defences as they are renowned for having midfielders with great pace. Draxler, Farfan and Boateng could be one of the deadliest midfield combos in the whole Champions` League. Schalke takes second place but should be aware of Basel.
For the past two years Basel has been making a name for themselves throughout Europe. Basel most notably knocked out Manchester United in the 2011-2012 Champions League. Basel defeated Manchester United on the last match day of the group stages assuring that Sir Alex Ferguson and his star studded team fell to the depths of the Europa League.
Last year, Basel went to the semi-finals of the Europa League before losing to Chelsea 5-2 on aggregate. Before bowing out against Chelsea, Basel defeated the likes of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Tottenham. Basel is back in the Champions` League and is playing in a group of similar strength to the one in 2011.
Basel lost centre-back Aleksandar Dragovic as he transferred to Dynamo Kyiv for a fee believed to be around €9 million. Dragovic was a huge part of both Champions League and Europa League runs and will be missed in the back line. Basel has two talented offensive midfielders who have proven that they can play with the big dogs in Europe. Valentin Stocker and Mohamed Salah both can hold their own and can provide Basel with spectacular talent.
Stocker nearly transferred to group rivals Schalke over the transfer window before they got Kevin Prince Boateng. Salah was under Tottenham's microscope for a bit of time as well before they signed Christian Eriksen. I still think Schalke will take the second spot in the group, but don't be shocked if Basel can pull off something like 2011 and snag that second spot.
Steaua Bucharest are undoubtedly the most decorated and famous team in Romania. After not being in the Champions` League since the 2008-2009 they have returned and may remember a friendly face from last year Europa League as they lost to Chelsea in the Round of 16. Steaua is in bad shape as they lost two big names this previous transfer window.
Top scorer Raul Rusescu, who bagged 21 goals in league play last year, took his talents to Spain as he now plays for Sevilla FC. Rusescu was also 2012 Romanian Footballer of the Year. Lastly, Vlad Chirches was also snapped up by Tottenham for a fee set to be around €9.5 million. Chirches has made 19 appearances for the Romania national team and is the countries most prized defender.
Steaua will struggle and won't be able to keep up with the teams in their group. Expect a fourth place finish for them.
4. Steaua Bucharest
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