Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is relieved to be starting with a clean slate as his side kick-off their Champions League campaign with a home tie against Maccabi Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
The Stamford Bridge side’s start to their Premier League title defence has been woeful, with just four points taken from five matches, and the Portuguese manager felt moved to insist he was still the man to lead the club following Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Everton.
That result means there is an already an 11-point gap to table-toppers Manchester City and Mourinho is finding some comfort ahead of his latest test that at least he is not behind in this competition as he prepares for a vital clash that could transform his side’s morale.
“It is better not to look to the league table, this is the first time I look and see my team in such a position,” Mourinho said after the loss at Goodison Park, with Chelsea languishing in 17th.
“Obviously my career and my experience make me believe in myself and I am happy that on Wednesday we have another game and we don’t have to wait 15 days like we did from the last match [the defeat to Crystal Palace].
“I am happy that in this moment the players don’t have too much time to think about what is happening and a different competition is welcome when we are not behind having less points than the opponents – we are on zero like Maccabi, Porto and Dynamo Kiev.
“It is a good challenge, I cannot be here jumping or laughing because people may think I am not sad or frustrated so I cannot laugh too much, but the reality is I face this situation smiling inside because it is a good challenge.”
Chelsea will have Asmir Begovic in goal, with Thibaut Courtois a long-term absentee after undergoing knee surgery, while Oscar has not played since the opening-game draw with Swansea City due to an unspecified injury.
Mourinho will be comforted by the Blues’ formidable record in the group stage, particularly at home. They have only lost one of their last 35 matches at Stamford Bridge in the initial stage of the competition.
Maccabi have made it to the group stages for the first time since 2004 after sealing their progress through every phase of the qualification process by impressively beating Basel on away goals in the play-off round.
Unlike their opponents, Slavisa Jokanovic’s side have made a solid start to their own domestic season, picking up seven points from a possible nine. The Maccabi head coach is a former Chelsea player, having had a spell in London between 2000 and 2002.
Attacking midfielder and captain Eran Zahavi has made a flying start to the new campaign, with his goal tally already having reached 11 from 10 matches in all competitions, including seven in the Champions League qualifiers. The visitors will be missing Eliazer Dasa through suspension.