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Preview: Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Chelsea

Sports Mole previews Tuesday's Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Chelsea.

Domestically, things may not be going to plan for Chelsea, but Jose Mourinho's side will qualify for the knockout rounds of the Champions League should they beat Maccabi Tel Aviv on Tuesday and Dynamo Kiev fail to overcome Porto.

The West London outfit are currently second in Group G, while Maccabi reside at the bottom on zero points.

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

The Israeli club have no chance of reaching the next phase of the elite European tournament, and with all due respect, they were unlikely to be challenging for honours in the first place.

Slavisa Jovanovic's side made it into the group stage for the first time in 11 years, but they have struggled to prove that they can match Europe's giants as they are the only team in the competition to have failed to earn a single point.

Eran Zahavi managed to nab seven goals in the qualifying rounds, but in the group phase he has only scored one, which was in a 3-1 defeat to Porto earlier this month.

Zahavi's goal is the only one to have hit the back of the net for Maccabi during the group stage as they have been convincingly beaten by Chelsea, Dynamo Kiev and Porto twice.

The Israeli side were last in the Champions League during the 2004-05 campaign, but they faced an even tougher ask to get into the knockout rounds as they were grouped with Bayern Munich, Juventus and Ajax.

As expected, Maccabi finished bottom of the group, but they came away with four points after beating Ajax at home and holding Juventus to a draw.

The Tel Aviv club will host Chelsea this week amid a backdrop of trouble due to the conflict in Gaza, where rockets were launched towards Haifa, 75 miles from where the game will be played.

On the pitch, Maccabi were given a lesson by Chelsea in their opening group game as the Blues claimed a 4-0 victory at Stamford Bridge, with goals from Willian, Oscar, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas.

They will expect a difficult test again as they face a Chelsea side who are just beginning to find form, but Maccabi have their domestic form to boost them as Zahavi scored his 100th league goal to push the team back to the summit of the Premier League in Israel.

Recent form: DDLLLL
Recent form (all competitions): LLWLWW


Jose Mourinho the manager of Chelsea looks on during the Capital One Cup fourth round match between Stoke City and Chelsea at the Britannia Stadium on October 27, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England. © Getty Images

So far, it has been a season to forget for Chelsea where the Premier League is concerned, but following Saturday's 1-0 win over Norwich City, perhaps fortunes are changing for the boys in blue.

Mourinho's side have been a shadow of the team that stormed to the English title last season as they are currently 14 points off top spot and 12 adrift of a Champions League qualification spot.

The title may not be heading to Stamford Bridge this season, but Chelsea's hopes of being in the hat for the 2016-17 Champions League campaign are still alive.

In the current tournament, the Blues have had a better time of it than domestically as they sit second in the group, three points behind Porto, whom they hope will hold off Dynamo when the two sides go head to head on Tuesday evening.

While qualification for the knockout rounds is in sight, the Blues did slip up against Porto in September and were held to a goalless draw by Dynamo in October.

Chelsea have, though, managed to see off Dynamo on home turf and claim a convincing 4-0 rout over Maccabi, whom they face this week.

The West London outfit are used to topping their groups as they were able to do so for the ninth time in their last 12 campaigns last year, but they failed to progress past the knockout phase after losing on away goals to Paris Saint-Germain.

Mourinho has been at the centre of speculation that he could lose his job at Chelsea, but in the last couple of weeks, that talk has died down, particularly after guiding the team to victory over Norwich.

The performance in that game was of a much higher standard than Chelsea have shown at times in this campaign, with Eden Hazard, who was named PFA Player of the Year last season, impressing in the number 10 role.

Mourinho could use Hazard in the same position this week as he bids to win his third Champions League crown following triumphs with Porto and Inter Milan.

Recent form: WLDW
Recent form (all competitions): LLLWLW

Team News

Eden Hazard of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England. © Getty Images

Chelsea will arrive in Israel with no fresh injury concerns as Radamel Falcao and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois are the only players to have not travelled with the squad.

The level of opposition may not be the most threatening side that Chelsea have faced before, but given that a win could guarantee them a spot in the knockout rounds, Mourinho is likely to field a strong side to get the job done.

As mentioned, Hazard could be slotted in at number 10 after he showed glimpses of what earned him the Player of the Year nod last season, with Costa leading the line.

Willian and Pedro could also provide attacking flair on the flanks, while Nemanja Matic and Fabregas marshall the middle of the park.

John Terry, who had to fight for his place at the beginning of the season, is expected to captain the side in a centre-back partnership with Kurt Zouma, while Asmir Begovic should resume in goal during Courtois's absence.

For the hosts, Zahavi, fresh from scoring his 100th league goal at the weekend, is expected to be part of the attacking force, while Tal Ben Haim, who spent a year at Chelsea between 2007 and 2008, is likely to be included in Maccabi's back four.

Maccabi Tel Aviv possible starting lineup:
Rajkovic; Shpungin, Ben Haim, Tibi, Ben Harush; Ben Haim II, Mitrovic, Alberman; Igiebor, Rikan, Zahavi

Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Begovic; Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas; Pedro, Hazard, Willian; Costa

Head To Head

There is not a vast history of results between these two sides as they have only met once, and that was in September when Chelsea gained a 4-0 victory to kick off their Champions League group campaign.

As mentioned, Willian, Oscar, Costa and Fabregas were among the scorers as Maccabi failed to get on the scoresheet at Stamford Bridge.

In terms of facing Israeli opponents, Chelsea have only visited the country once before when they lost 2-0 to Hapoel Tel Aviv in the second round of the 2001-02 UEFA Cup before playing out a 1-1 draw at the Bridge.

Maccabi's only other matches against English clubs were against Stoke City when they lost both legs to the Premier League outfit in the group stage of the 2011-12 Europa League.

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We say: Maccabi Tel Aviv 0-2 Chelsea

Chelsea may have suffered a downward turn following last season's league success, but in the Champions League they have managed to keep their campaign alive. Mourinho's side will face a team that have failed to pick up a single point in the tournament, and despite being on away soil, Chelsea have enough quality among their ranks to get the victory that they require. In addition, the Blues head into the match on the back of a much-needed win in the Premier League, which will only enhance their chances of beating Maccabi on Tuesday.

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Eden Hazard of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.
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