Can Chelsea fly the flag in Europe?

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s reign as benefactor began in 2003 and success soon followed the Russian billionaire to west London. A long-awaited European success was delivered just under a decade later when rookie manager Roberto Di Matteo led the club to a memorable Champions League success over Bayern Munich in 2012.

Special One returns

Despite departing as Chelsea manager in acrimonious circumstances in 2007, Jose Mourinho again finds himself at the helm trying to steer Chelsea to domestic and European glory. The 51-year-old first enjoyed Champions League success with Porto in 2004 and then again with Inter Milan in 2010 however it eluded the coach in his first spell at Chelsea and during his time with Real Madrid. Mourinho’s current crop of players though will give cause for optimism that he can secure his third Champions League win and make sure that English clubs continue to compete in this elite competition.

In comparison with their English counterparts, Chelsea’s passage through to the last sixteen has been relatively straight-forward. Whilst the eight points from their opening four matches have been hard fought, the Blues are on course to face an unseeded side after Christmas providing there are no late collapses. Liverpool and Manchester City look unlikely to qualify while Arsenal are also through after a win against Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund. Chelsea however look the Premier League’s best shot at European glory.

Usual suspects

A familiar dynamic looks likely to emerge in this year’s competition with Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola again looking to lead their side to the showpiece final this year.

Real Madrid have continued their imperious form from the previous campaign, having won each of their four matches in the group stage.  After winning their landmark Decima earlier this year, they continue to be driven forward by Cristiano Ronaldo. At 29, Ronaldo is arguably in the finest form of his career.

Domestically, the Portuguese attacker has netted 20 goals in 12 La Liga matches and has, in fact, outscored a number of top clubs in Europe including Manchester United, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund. As ever with the Spanish side, there are a host of other talents to consider and the Galacticos could become the first team in the Champions League era to win in consecutive campaigns.

Another European giant, Bayern Munich, surrendered that very opportunity last year under Pep Guardiola. Bayern managed a domestic double in the 2013/14 campaign but were unceremoniously dumped out of Europe’s premier club competition with a 5-0 aggregate defeat by Real Madrid at the semi-final stage.

A comfortable seven-point lead in the Bundesliga with just three goals conceded in 12 matches hints at a more balanced Bayern side in Guardiola’s second campaign. An impressive 7-1 rout in Rome has been the highlight of the Bavarians’ campaign so far and the expectation in Munich is that the 43-year-old will deliver Bayern’s sixth European Cup success.

Fighting on all fronts

Back in London, Chelsea sit comfortably atop the Premier League table and once again look like a traditional Jose Mourinho side. A relatively small pool of players who the Portuguese trusts implicitly remains a hallmark of his ethos. Whilst men such as Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have been in superb form this campaign while going forward, the willingness and enthusiasm with which they defend is quite remarkable.

Chelsea will certainly be expecting to make the semis; Mourinho enjoys the honour of taking his sides to the last four more than any other manager with eight appearances under his belt. Having underwritten a transfer spend of over £200 million in his second spell as coach, the ruthless Chairman Abramovic will expect success in Berlin’s Olympiastadion in May.

There is little contention that Chelsea are currently the Premier League’s best representative in the Champions League however it will be fascinating, particularly in the latter stages, to assess just how good Mourinho’s side are when put up against their European counterparts. A competition that this manager thrives in has proved elusive during his time in London. It might also give a glimpse to the quality between the leagues should Chelsea be left as the sole representative in the later stages.