UCL draw smiles on Chelsea
Thursday's Champions League draw in Monaco saw Chelsea placed in Group G where they will face Schalke 04, Sporting Clube de Portugal and NK Maribor. The Blues have failed to progress from the group stages of the competition on only one occasion, the season following their final triumph over Bayern Munich in 2012. Despite being matched with fairly modest opposition, manager Jose Mourinho will be taking nothing for granted as he plots qualification to the knockout stages.
Champions League group stage
A: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Olympiakos, Malmo
B: Real Madrid, Basel, Liverpool, Ludogorets
C: Benfica, Zenit, Leverkusen, Monaco
D: Arsenal, Dortmund, Galatasaray, Anderlecht
E: Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, Man City, Roma
F: Barcelona, PSG, Ajax, APOEL
G: Chelsea, Schalke, Sporting, Maribor
H: Porto, Shakhtar, Athletic Bilbao, BATE
Bundesliga side Schalke 04 are familiar opponents for Chelsea. Drawn together in Group E last season, a rare brace from Fernando Torres and a late Eden Hazard goal helped the Blues cruise to a 3-0 win at the Veltins Arena. It was the same convincing scoreline at Stamford Bridge, where Samuel Eto'o rippled the net twice and Demba Ba was also on target.
The sides also met in the group stage of the 2007-08 competition, Chelsea -- managed then by Avram Grant -- winning 2-0 at the Veltins and drawing 0-0 at Bridge. Jens Keller's side finished a creditable third in the Bundesliga last season, and while the nucleus of the team has not been improved, Schalke's players should be motivated enough to provide a sterner test for Chelsea this time around.
Sporting Clube de Portugal are an intriguing proposition for Mourinho and Chelsea. The Blues have never faced the Lisbon club in a competitive fixture, and match-going supporters of the London club will be excited at the chance of visiting a new stadium, with the Estadio Jose Alvalade expected to sell out all 50,000 seats. Last season, Sporting manager Marco Silva guided the Verde-e-Brancos (green and whites) to second place in the Primeira Liga, and he will relish the prospect of pitting his wits against countryman Mourinho.
Another new team for Chelsea are Nogometni Klub Maribor, Group G's unknown quantity. A dominant force in Slovenian football, Maribor, who have won the PrvaLiga for the past four seasons, reached the group stages of the Champions League for the first time in 15 years by virtue of a 2-1 aggregate victory over Scottish Premier League champions Celtic. Having drawn 1-1 in Slovenia, manager Ante Simundza inspired the Violets to a 1-0 victory in Scotland with the captain, Brazilian Marcos Tavares, scoring the winner.
With a capacity of under 13,000, tickets for Chelsea's game at the Ljudski vrt, which translates rather romantically to the "People's Garden," might be difficult to come by for travelling Blues supporters looking forward to another journey to pastures new.
Mark Worrall has penned several books on the history and success of Chelsea Football Club. You can follow him on Twitter @gate17marco.