Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Champions League: Chelsea-Olympiacos: Grant's Moment of Truth?

Chelsea hosts Olympiacos in the return leg of its round-of-16 tie with Olympiacos today (2:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2 live). The teams drew 0-0 in Greece, putting the visitors at a slight advantage today (see AC Milan-Arsenal) because of the away-goal rule.

For all the criticism heaped on Avram Grant, Chelsea has been in pretty fair form for the better part of three months. Losing the Carling Cup final was a big hiccup, but one has to wonder how much of a priority it was for the Blues since they're still very much alive in the Champions League and FA Cup, and still have a prayer in the Premiership.

Since losing Dec. 16 1-0 to Arsenal, Chelsea has lost only once--to Tottenham in the Carling Cup--and tied three other matches. It has won 13 times during that stretch, including nine in a row before tying Portsmouth Feb. 2. Only Arsenal's hot start and United's tremendous form have kept Chelsea at bay in the Premiership. Chelsea has 58 points, seven back of Arsenal.

At home today, Chelsea certainly has momentum in its favor; it even got a reversal on Frank Lampard's red card, meaning he won't be missing from the team due to suspension.

Yet for all these positives, Grant is still under the spotlight. His starting eleven is the biggest concern. Will Joe Cole play? What is Anelka's role? Is John Terry at top form? When will he finally pair up Drogba with Anelka?

Chelsea The Offside speaks from the heart when he says today that failure is not an option for Grant--a 4-1-2-1-2 with Drogba and Anelka?

CL The Offside points out that for the first time in a long time Chelsea is healthy, and with a wealth of superstars available--27 he says--that the Blues should sweep into the quarterfinals 2-0. They also offer predictions on the rest of today's matches.

The Times Online blog, meanwhile, has an interesting read on Chelsea's untouchables. Ignoring the just awkward, awful prose for a second, he lists Makelele, Essien, Lampard, Ballack, Terry, Carvalho, Drogba, Cech and Ashley Cole as the original list of irreplaceable players. If anyone finds the point to this blog posting, please let me know, but I think the point's he's desperately trying to make is that Essien and Drogba are keepers, the rest, well, aren't, I guess?

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