What: Champions League (Round of 16)
Who: FC Copenhagen vs Chelsea
When: Tuesday 22nd February, 2011, 19:45 UK time
Where: Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, Denmark

Fighting off the Rust

With the Danish league taking a winter break until March, FC Copenhagen do not have the excuse of a heavy fixture list and the players should be fresh and hungry in comparison to their Chelsea counterparts. But the break may have brought some rust with it too as no amount of friendlies can replicate the tempo and fire of a competitive fixture. Match fitness could be a factor in the first leg.

However, if the Danes’ league form is any indication, FC Copenhagen will pose a real threat. The Parken outfit have powered into a staggering 19-point lead at the top of the table after just 19 games, winning 16 and drawing three.

Despite their domestic domination, few gave FC Copenhagen a chance when the Danes were drawn in a group that contained Barcelona and Panathinaikos. But Stale Solbakken’s men sprung a string of surprises to finish second with 10 points and become the first Danish team to reach the last 16 in the Champions League era. This included a famous 1-1 draw at home to the all-star cast of Barcelona. Such performances are a reminder that the Loverne (Lions) will be no pushovers. They have nothing to lose and boast a good blend of experience – former Chelsea man Jesper Gronkjaer – and younger talents – attacker Dame N’Doye and captain William Kvist.

And Solbakken is urging his players to gain an advantage on Tuesday night, saying: “We’ve never been beaten in a home Champions League game and we’ve played Manchester United, Barcelona and other great teams, so our challenge to is to do something in the first leg to keep the second game interesting.”

Last Chance Saloon

Chelsea’s campaign has gone so far off the rails since September that the Champions League is the last chance for Carlo Ancelotti’s men to salvage glory from a hugely disappointing season. The Blues have slipped out of the top four domestically and, despite shelling out more than £70M on Fernando Torres and David Luiz last month, there is little sign of improvement.

If anything, Chelsea are going backwards, particularly after elimination from the FA Cup on penalties against Everton at the weekend. It is taking time for Torres to adjust to his new surroundings and Didier Drogba’s role in the months ahead is unclear. There is a growing sense that conquering Europe is the only way for Ancelotti to hang onto his job.

And the Italian is playing up the importance of Champions League glory. “The club have never won the competition, the final is in London and no London team has ever won the Champions League. There are a lot of reasons that can make it more important. The Champions League is always important but this year, for Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea, it could be more important.”

The Champions League has been the one bright spot in an otherwise underwhelming campaign. The Blues dominated Group F, cruising into top spot with five wins from six games and netting 14 goals in the process. However, such impressive form has become a distant memory.


Recent form

FC Copenhagen:
FC Copenhagen 1-1 IFK Goteborg (03/02; Friendly)
FC Copenhagen 2-0 IF Elfsborg
(12/02; Friendly)
FC Copenhagen 5-0 Rosenborg
(15/02; Friendly)

Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool
(06/02; Premier League)
Fulham 0-0 Chelsea
(14/02; Premier League)
Chelsea 1-1 Everton – Everton win 4-3 on penalties (19/02; FA Cup)

Key absences

FC Copenhagen: None

Chelsea: Alex (doubt), Yuri Zhirkov, Yossi Benayoun

Players to watch

FC Copenhagen – Jesper Gronkjaer: The Danes will throw everything at Chelsea in the early stages and Gronkjaer’s trickery and experience will be pivotal against his former club. But the visitors will undoubtedly create chances, making highly-rated goalkeeper Johan Wiland a key figure too. Wiland has been a big factor in the Danes’ solid defensive record domestically (just 15 goals conceded in 19 games).

Chelsea – Fernando Torres: No player in blue goes into this tie with more to prove than Torres, who has struggled in his first few appearances under the hefty £50M price tag. He is still a world-class talent, but the pressure is building and the Spaniard needs a big performance to silence the critics. Frank Lampard’s ability to burst forward from midfield will also be crucial for the visitors.

Match Prediction

Chelsea go into this tie as clear favourites on paper, but their league form has piled pressure on their Champions League hopes. FC Copenhagen cannot be written off and will be fresh from their winter break, however the Blues’ talent is too good not to bounce back. The Danes might well be the unlucky victims of a Chelsea backlash.

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