Maccabi Tel Aviv heads into London to face defending English Premier League Champions Chelsea FC at Stamford Bridge on Matchday One of the UEFA Champions League Group Stage. Playing against one of the world’s top football clubs would be a challenge not only for the the Yellow-and-Blue but for any other side around the globe.
The Sports Rabbi Josh Halickman had a chance to speak with a number of journalists who cover Chelsea, their flamboyant coach Jose Mourinho, as well as their Belgium players including Eden Hazard.
There’s no question that after a poor start in England, Chelsea will want to come out firing on all cylinders against the Israeli Champions. “I think that at home Chelsea will come out to attack Maccabi and look to score a few goals. They will play an attacking line-up with Matic sitting back and the rest of the midfielders looking to go forward,” Adam Henderson a Scottish freelance sports journalist commented.
“Chelsea usually play 4-2-3-1 and/or 4-3-3 and I’d be surprised to see that change against Maccabi. They’ll perhaps see Maccabi as the weakest team in group but they know that there are no weak sides in the Champions League. Chelsea have made hard work of the so-called easier sides before and they’ll be well guarded against complacency,” says Simon Yaffe a freelance British football journalist. “Mourinho places his trust in a small group of 16-18 players and they form the basis of his squad. I’d be shocked if he didn’t field a very strong starting XI against Maccabi and I believe Chelsea will come into the match at full strength.”
Eden Hazard is one of the most dynamic player in Europe and recognized around the world. Bart Lagae, a journalist for Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium spoke about his country’s superstar, “Hazard is a unique player in Chelsea’s squad and was chosen as the best player in the league by both players and press last year. He has adapted well to the Premier League, with clear improvement in his defensive play thanks to Mourinho.”
Henderson concurred with his colleague, “Hazard is one of the best attacking midfielders in the world and has the ability to rip teams apart, he’s a huge asset.” Lagae also talked about his top quality skills, “He’s very strong one on one and with his dribbling. However he must improve his long passing and headers. If he ever wants to compete with the likes of Ronaldo and Messi, he will need to score more too.”
Lagae also spoke about Hazard staying under the radar, unlike many football superstars, “Hazard is a family man and a father of two. His first child was born when he was only 19 or 20 and he has always preferred to stay out of the limelight with his family and lives a quiet life in South West London.”
Others players on Chelsea are world-class as well, “Nemanja Matic is very important for me because every team needs a top class defensive midfielder to let the attacking players do their thing. I also think Branislav Ivanovic is crucial. He’s a top class defender, always reliable and can chip in with a goal in big matches,” expressed Henderson.
Yaffe chimed in as well, “To me the most important players other than Hazard for Chelsea are certainly John Terry and Matic. The fact that they’ve all started slowly is a big reason as to why Chelsea have been struggling so far this season.”
Since the Yellow-and-Blue are making their first Champions League Group Stage appearance in 11 years, the question of how much preparation and scouting Chelsea has done comes to the forefront. “I’m not sure how much they’ve actually done.” commented Henderson. “ They probably have a rough idea of what kind of game to expect and I’m sure Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has a few connections who know about Israeli football, but I don’t think Mourinho will be obsessing over Maccabi.”
Yaffe was a bit more certain that the London based club has done their homework on Maccabi. “I would imagine Chelsea has done extensive scouting on Maccabi and Mourinho won’t be sending his team in blind. It’s not like Maccabi play in North Korea – they are part of UEFA and won’t be an unknown.”
There’s no question that Maccabi heading to play Chelsea will be a highlight for all fans throughout Israel and the key will be for the Yellow-and-Blue to play attractive football. Could their be an upset in the making at the famed Stamford Bridge? Henderson was optimistic about their chances, “Chelsea supporters have probably read about how Maccabi advanced over Basel and I definitely think they have the ability to cause a few surprises because they are a very talented team, but in Stamford Bridge it won’t be easy.”