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UEFA Champions League Group E preview: Chelsea exit looms

Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying from the Champions League group stage hang by a thread as Juventus look to progress to the knockout rounds.

In what promises to be another dramatic night in Group E, title holders Chelsea head into their clash with Norsjaelland knowing their future in the competition depends on Juventus losing to group leaders Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.

Chelsea’s 3-0 loss to Juve in the last round ended up costing Roberto Di Matteo his job, despite him taking the club through to their Champions League triumph over Bayern Munich last May after Andre Villas-Boas was sacked.

And, Di Matteo’s replacement, Rafael Benitez, already finds himself under some pressure. Unpopular with many Chelsea supporters due to his time at Liverpool, Benitez’s stock has already taken more of a dive as a creditable 0-0 draw with Manchester City was followed by a 3-1 loss to West Ham last weekend.

If the Blues were to bow out of the Champions League on Wednesday, it is unlikely it would be Benitez’s fault, although that may not save him from further scrutiny.

With seven points to their name and a weaker head-to-head record against the Italian champions, Chelsea can advance to the next stage only if they defeat Nordsjaelland and Juve (nine points) lose to Shakhtar (10).

Chelsea’s bid to do that would have been greatly helped by the leadership of John Terry and Frank Lampard, but while the pair will reportedly train this week, Benitez looks likely to take a cautious approach with their return from knee and calf injuries respectively.

Juventus, meanwhile, head to Ukraine following a tougher than expected battle with derby rivals Torino on the weekend.

Although the final scoreline of 3-0 looks like an emphatic result for Juve, all three of those goals came in the second half as the Serie A giants struggled to break down their resilient opponents until Kamil Glik’s dismissal gave Juventus an edge.

Up to that point in time, Juve looked like a side with bigger things on their mind as they went through the motions somewhat against Torino, especially as the club have generally opted to play a similar line-up in Serie A as they do in Europe.

But Juve will have to be far better in Wednesday’s game as Shakhtar boast one of the more imposing home records in world football.

The Ukrainian side have not been beaten at the Donbass Arena since June 24 when Rubin Kazan edged them out 3-2 and have a 100 percent record at the venue in this season’s edition of the Champions League.

Tue 4 Dec, 2012
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