There are plenty of angles that have nothing to do with football heading into the Galatasaray vs Chelsea Champions League knockout stage first leg. Jose Mourinho getting caught talking about his players, Roberto Mancini trying to make himself look better than he actually is and the Didier Drogba factor playing against his former team and former manager.
But there’s also football, and in that Chelsea are the better side, but not by much. The Premier League leaders haven’t lost a league match in a long time, but they will be playing without Nemanja Matic who is a very important part of their midfield setup in recent weeks, which means a lot more pressure on Ramires and Frank Lampard, who haven’t been as successful when playing as a duo.
Galatasaray are an excellent home side, but they were crushed by Real Madrid in the group stage. They’ve lost just one of their last seven Champions League home games, playing very aggressively through a crowded midfield led by Felipe Melo, and mostly relying on their front three: Wesley Sneijder, Burak Yilmaz and Didier Drogba.
The Drogba-Mourinho-Chelsea love affair is known to all, and it’ll probably be quite special for the Ivorian striker to play against a team he took to the Champions League title in 2012. The manager? He already faced him in the Champions League quarterfinals last season, and nearly knocked him out when the Turkish champions (second place this season) played Real Madrid.
Drogba is pretty much everything to the Galatasaray attack. He has scored or assisted 62.5% of Galatasaray’s goals in the competition. Wesley Sneijder also finds playing at home very comfortable, scoring in three of the last four home matches for Gala in the Champions League.
But this is going to be about Chelsea – will they be able to play quick, smart football through Willian and Eden Hazard, with Frank Lampard and Ramires getting the help they need? Mourinho doesn’t have the luxury of using David Luiz as an extra midfielder in the middle, so it’ll be up to one of his creative trio to provide that help. He needs to hope it won’t be the kind of performance we saw from Chelsea in their FA Cup loss to Manchester City.
Prediction – Eden Hazard is one of the hottest players in Europe and is worth a goal with almost every touch in recent weeks. Galatasaray are tough to beat at home but tend to lose their heads if they concede early. This feels like a draw with goals, but Chelsea will walk off the more pleased side in any case.