PARIS: Defending champions Chelsea face the ignominy of becoming the first title-holders to fail to advance to the Champions League knockout stage as the final round of group fixtures takes place on Wednesday.
A comprehensive 3-0 defeat at Juventus a fortnight ago left Chelsea’s title defence hanging by a thread and the Blues’ destiny out of their hands, as a draw between Group E frontrunners Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus in Ukraine would consign Rafa Benitez’s side to the Europa League.
The pressure is already mounting on Benitez after an inauspicious start as Chelsea manager following his appointment in the wake of Roberto di Matteo’s dismissal, with the team yet to record a victory under the Spaniard’s tutelage and the fans quickly losing patience.
“We have to improve on the pitch and the fans will be happy,” said Benitez following Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat at West Ham on Saturday, with the match against Denmark’s FC Nordsjaelland looming.
After starting the campaign in impressive fashion, Chelsea’s form has plummeted drastically as the west Londoners are without a win in seven Premier League outings, their worst stretch in the top-flight in 17 years.
“The positive thing is that Shakhtar has a lot of good players and everybody is talking about them, so they have to show the rest of the world that they are really good players,” said Benitez, who guided Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2005.
“They might finish second and have to play against one of the top sides in Europe and it will be more difficult, so I think they will try to win,” he added, hopeful of a favour from Mircea Lucescu’s side who boast an unblemished home record in all competitions this campaign.
Meanwhile Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio, who is suspended for the trip to eastern Europe, insisted the Italians had no intentions of just playing to secure the point they need to progress.