TEL AVIV, Nov 23, (AFP): Chelsea head to Israel amid new security worries in the region as they try to seal a spot in the last 16 of the Champions League against Maccabi Tel Aviv on Tuesday. Jose Mourinho’s team currently sit in second place in Group G and could advance with a victory against the already eliminated Israeli champions provided Dynamo Kiev do not win their game against Porto.
A draw would also suffice if Dynamo lose at the same time in Portugal. But Chelsea travel to Israel where they will find a country racked by violence. On Thursday, five people, including an American, died when Palestinian attacks targeted Israelis in a Tel Aviv stabbing and a West Bank gun and car-ramming assault.
In one of the attacks, a 36-year-old Palestinian stormed into an office building in commercial capital Tel Aviv with a knife, killing two Israelis and wounding one. “I think you just have to rely on people who know a lot more than me about the whole situation to make sensible decisions,” said Chelsea defender Gary Cahill when asked to discuss the prospects of travelling to the country.
Chelsea enter Tuesday’s crucial clash in good spirits after ending their three-game winless streak in the Premier League by defeating Norwich City 1-0 on Saturday thanks to a Diego Costa goal. Despite the victory, Chelsea have been struggling to regain last season’s majestic form in the Premier League which saw Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa form a dynamic attack that many clubs feared.
But captain John Terry was pleased with the win over Norwich and is focused on Tuesday night’s match, which will be played an hour up the coast from Tel Aviv in Haifa. “We have three points on the board now in the Premier League and switch focus to the Champions League again. With that in mind and the importance of qualifying it’s all there for everyone to see,” said Terry.
Chelsea won 4-0 when the two clubs met earlier this season at Stamford Bridge in their opening Champions League game. Terry, Nemanja Matic, Branislav Ivanovic and Costa were omitted from the starting XI due to their poor start in the Premier League but all should play a major role on Tuesday.
Chelsea have only faced one Israeli side other than Maccabi in their history — during the 2001/02 season, Hapoel Tel Aviv stunned the Blues in the UEFA Cup, beating them 3-1 over two legs.
Maccabi, who have won three straight domestic titles, geared up for this clash by beating Hapoel Haifa 3-0 on Saturday to take over top spot in the Israeli top flight. Striker Dejan Radonjic is doubtful with a nagging calf injury, while midfielder Tal Ben Haim II is expected to feature despite not fully recovering from a calf injury.
Former Chelsea defender Tal Ben Haim I is expected to return to the line-up after being rested on Saturday. Despite Maccabi’s poor start in the Champions League, their leading goal scorer in Europe, Eran Zahavi, is staying optimistic.
“It’s realistic to hope for points against Chelsea. It’s our time to go all out, because we have nothing to lose in the Champions League,” he said. Serbian manager Slavisa Jokanovic, a former Chelsea player who last season led Watford to promotion to the Premier League, expects a difficult match for his team who have lost all four of their group games, managing just one goal.
“The Champions League is the highest level of European football. Chelsea may not have played well this season but they are still Chelsea, we have to show our best and I expect that we will do this,” he said. Radamel Falcao and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois are missing for Chelsea due to injury.