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Preview: Chelsea vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv

Sports Mole looks ahead to the Champions League group stage opener between Chelsea and Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Chelsea will be hoping to get their season back on track when they start their Champions League campaign with a home tie against Maccabi Tel Aviv on Wednesday evening.

The Blues have made their worst start to a domestic top-flight season in 29 years, losing three of their opening five league games, and putting Jose Mourinho and his players under intense pressure.


Jose Mourinho holds his face in horror during the game between Chelsea and Everton at Goodison Park on September 12, 2015© Getty Images

Chelsea will go into their first match in this season's Champions League after a dismal start to their Premier League season, which has left them 17th in the table, after collecting just four points from their opening five games.

They have lost three of their previous four league matches and they suffered a 3-1 defeat against Everton on Saturday, with Steven Naismith coming off the bench to grab a hat-trick.

Mourinho has since come under fire for his team's displays, but he came out fighting following the loss at Goodison Park and insisted that he is still the man for the job at Stamford Bridge.

It is not just the manager who has taken the brunt of criticism from supporters, as many of the club's title-winning side from last season have badly underperformed, with Mourinho calling out several of his squad last month.

Ivanovic has been heavily scrutinised for his recent displays, while his defensive colleagues Gary Cahill and John Terry have also looked far from their best, with Chelsea conceding 12 goals already this season.

Further up the pitch Eden Hazard has struggled to hit the form that saw him named last season's PFA Player of the Year, and Cesc Fabregas has also been singled out, with the Spaniard expected to lose his place against Maccabi.

Recent form: LDLWLL

Maccabi Tel Aviv

Slavisa Jokanovic, coach of Muangthong United, looks on during the AFC Champions League Group F match between Urawa Red Diamonds and Muangthong United at Saitama Stadium on March 12, 2013© Getty Images

While Chelsea may be struggling in the Premier League, the complete opposite is the case for Israeli champions Maccabi Tel Aviv, who are second in their domestic division after winning two of their opening three matches.

They have actually won the title for the past three seasons, but they have been unable to replicate their success at home in Europe, following a number of early exits from the competition.

However, they have stunned many by reaching the group stages of the Champions League for the first time in 11 years, after beginning their campaign in the second qualifying round.

Maccabi started the long route to the group stage by taking on Maltese outfit Hibernians in July, where they suffered a 2-1 defeat in the first leg, before turning things around to win 5-1 in the return meeting.

In the third qualifying round they were forced to come from behind again after falling to a damaging 2-1 home defeat to Viktoria Plzen. They managed to fight back in the Czech Republic, though, as a double from Eran Zahavi gave them a 2-0 win and a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Another tricky tie followed in the playoff round when they were drawn against Basel, who had impressed against Liverpool in last season's competition. In the first leg another brace from Zahavi earned them a 2-2 draw in Switzerland and they managed to hold their opponents to a 1-1 draw in Tel Aviv to book their return to Europe's biggest stage.

Tonight's match will also mark a welcome return to Stamford Bridge for Slavisa Jokanovic. The Serbian spent two seasons with Chelsea at the end of his playing career and made 53 appearances for the Blues.

Recent form: LDWDWD

Team News

Cesc Fabregas #4 of Chelsea takes the ball in the first half against the New York Red Bulls during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 22, 2015© Getty Images

Chelsea are tipped to make a number of changes to their side, with Fabregas and Ivanovic expected to be dropped to the bench.

Diego Costa has also been struggling for form, but he should keep his place up front with Radamel Falcao ruled out.

The Blues are still without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, but Oscar is back in contention after recovering from a knee injury.

Meanwhile, the visitors are unable to call on the services of Eliazer Dasa, who was sent off for previous club Beitar Jerusalem in the Europa League earlier this summer.

Eden Ben Basat should lead the attack for Maccabi, with captain Zahavi expected to provide their main goal threat after scoring seven goals in his past 10 outings.

Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Begovic, Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Rahman, Matic, Ramires, Hazard, Oscar, Pedro, Costa

Maccabi Tel Aviv possible starting lineup:
Rajkovic, Ziv, Tibi, Garcia, Haim, Shpungin, Alberman, Mitrovic, Rikan, Zahavi, Basat

Head To Head

Chelsea and Maccabi Tel Aviv have never played each other before, but the Blues have previously met teams from Israel in European competition.

They were drawn against Hapoel Tel Aviv in the second round of the UEFA Cup in 2001, but six of their first-team players refused to fly out to Israel. They suffered a 2-0 defeat and were eventually knocked out of the competition following a 1-1 draw at home.

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We say: Chelsea 2-1 Maccabi Tel Aviv

Due to Chelsea's poor start to the season it is hard to judge what team Mourinho will put out at Stamford Bridge, but he will demand a positive response from his players. They have looked shaky at the back and must guard against the threat of Zahavi, but we think that the Blues will have enough quality to claim the points and start their Champions League campaign on a winning note.

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