The visit of Spartak Moscow sees a long-awaited return to Champions League action for Chelsea's Didier Drogba, the player whose misdemeanours in the past three years have come to symbolise the club's frustrations with Europe's premier competition.
For three years running, Drogba has started the season with a suspension, caused by losing his temper as Chelsea's Champions League ambitions have bitten the dust time and again. Last season, he was sent off with six minutes left in Chelsea's 1-0 home defeat to Internazionale for stamping on Thiago Motta, for which he received a two-game ban.
In 2009, he was suspended for four games, which was reduced to three on appeal, when he exploded in an expletive-ridden rage at TV cameras after Chelsea's elimination by Barcelona.
Three seasons ago, he was red-carded in the final for slapping Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic in the face as the match headed towards the penalty shoot-out that a Drogba-less Chelsea went on to lose.
What Chelsea need this season is more of the Drogba who scored 37 goals last season, not the petulant prima donna who has thrown a tantrum every time Chelsea have lost out in Europe in recent years.
Chelsea will qualify for the knock-out stages should they beat Spartak Moscow at Stamford Bridge tonight, and manager Carlo Ancelotti acknowledged Drogba's importance to Chelsea's cause. "He's a big player," Ancelotti said. "I hope he will do in the Champions League what he has done in the Premier League this season.
"To do our best we need to have all our players. It will be fantastic if he [Drogba] is able to repeat the sort of performances he has made in the Premier League in the Champions League. That will give us a fantastic chance to get to the final of this competition."
Drogba, who missed the game in Moscow a fortnight ago with a high temperature, comes into the team while Florent Malouda is ruled out with an ankle injury and Frank Lampard is still sidelined with his on-going groin problem. Defender Jose Bosingwa has been struck down by a bug.
Getting their best players fit, and making sure they do not pick up suspensions, is vital if Chelsea are to continue into the latter stages of the competition. They sorely missed the contributions of Petr Cech, Ashley Cole and Michael Essien in their defeat to Inter last season. Ancelotti said: "The Champions League is decided on little details, and these are the little details. Control the recovery of the players, avoid injury, and avoid yellow cards or red cards. This is very important."
Victory tonight will allow Ancelotti the chance to rest key players for the trip to Marseilles on 8 December, ahead of three crucial games in the Premier League against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Two of Chelsea's best young players will be out of contract at the end of the season, as the champions play hard ball again over wages, despite having cut £20m from their bill last summer.
Gaël Kakuta and Fabio Borini, both 19, have been heralded as the future of the club at various times by Ancelotti but neither has yet to agree terms on a new deal. Borini has fallen completely out of the picture, and was not one of five players named by Ancelotti yesterday as he ran through his striking options.
Defender Branislav Ivanovic, who scored Chelsea's winner at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, is, however, close to signing a new £60,000-a-week contract that will keep him at the club until 2014. The Serbian international said: "I can say I'm happy at this club. I try to concentrate on every game because, at the moment, I'm part of Chelsea and I want to stay. I hope to speak with the guys from the club.Reuse content