x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Scolari's case of travel sickness

Chelsea may be top of the English Premier League but they have failed to click into gear in Europe where they take on a buoyant Bordeaux.

Luiz Felipe Scolari's Chelsea side, finalists in May, are far from certain of progressing in this season's Champions League.
Luiz Felipe Scolari's Chelsea side, finalists in May, are far from certain of progressing in this season's Champions League.

The swaggering Luiz Felipe Scolari resembles and carries himself with as much animation as Gene Hackman in his acting prime, but the Brazilian idealist's Chelsea side have curiously looked far from surefooted in adapting to the demands of changing roles.

The London club are perched on top of the English Premier League, yet failure to down Bordeaux in France tonight would leave them twitchy and would confine them to a horrid tussle to escape from Champions League Group A. It could be argued that it is the personal failings of a side that went all the way to the final of this tournament last season only to lose to Manchester United in a wretched penalty decider that has enabled all four teams to remain viable.

With two fixtures remaining, Chelsea are one point clear of Roma and Bordeaux, and three clear of CFR Cluj. Chelsea walloped Bordeaux 4-0 at home in their opening match, but their travels have become travails in seeking points outside of England. A noteworthy save from the goalkeeper Petr Cech allowed them to get out of Cluj with a 0-0 draw, but they slumped to a 3-1 loss at AS Roma in their last match.

Such a loss promotes a feeling that they could yet be early casualties this season. Boisterous 'Big Phil', the man who oversaw Brazil's winning of the World Cup in 2002, has quickly become domesticated since touching down in English football, but his boasts that the London side have become "Brazilianised" do not make so much sense in Europe. Scolari side's have lost a solitary match in England, to their fellow league leaders Liverpool, and have scored goals at will at Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion. Even the broody Nicolas Anelka has rediscovered himself with 12 goals in the Premier League, yet Europe continues to provide a challenge of a different nature.

The trick is to scrub themselves up and don their Sunday best ahead of the weekend's league match with their London foes Arsenal. As a match, facing Bordeaux is not a delightful diversion. Frank Lampard may once have stated his belief that the English Premier League means more than the Champions League, but the club's owner Roman Abramovich remains on a mission from near Moscow to close this tournament out in his club's favour.

The prime target under Abramovich's gaze is the European Cup. No other trophy in club football can match it for stature, despite the millions he has thrown to contest the English title. Didier Drogba, the former Marseille player, will miss facing Arsenal after his suspension for throwing a coin among fans during a League Cup tie against Burnley, but could play alongside Anelka in Bordeaux. With Florent Malouda in their midfield, Chelsea should have detailed knowledge of Bordeaux, who occupy sixth place in the French league.

Malouda is welcoming Drogba's availability. He said: "It will be a good thing for us. I think he will be angry, and show he has things to do for the team." This match is not quite a minefield, but these are potentially dangerous times for Scolari and Chelsea. dkane@thenational.ae