In Athens, and in the week running up to the Carling Cup final, John Terry and Frank Lampard were the ones sweating about whether or not they were in the Chelsea team. Last night it was the turn of Michael Ballack and Michael Essien.
With manager Avram Grant admitting that exiting the Champions League at the hands of Olympiakos would amount to a "catastrophe", there may well be some eruptions if Ballack, in particular, is excluded from the line-up. Having missed out at Wembley, the German international is once again fretting about his place and, in some of the formations worked upon by Grant and his assistant Henk ten Cate in training on Monday, was not included in a 4-3-1-2 formation with Didier Drogba returning.
Last night it was not certain that the 31-year-old midfielder would play with those around him claiming that he would look to his future if he did not feature. Certainly leaving out such an experienced and accomplished performer would be a surprise even if Grant has such riches at his disposal to juggle.
"Every player in the squad expects to play," Grant said when asked about his selection, refusing to say if he had picked his team. "We are a big squad with good players but only 11 can play. I checked it. I tried to play with more. So with any formation, any 11 I will pick there will be big players on the bench and the bench is very important for us. There are also big players who will not be in the squad this is the life of a big club."
The likelihood is that Ballack will start and that may be, as at West Ham last weekend, at the expense of Essien. However in training last night Ballack exuded the air of a man slightly detached from the rest – although that is often his manner – as he jogged along chatting to another who is far more on the periphery but arrived with a similar fan-fare two summers ago – Andrei Shevchenko.
Both were acquired with the intention of winning this competition which is starting to become something of a Holy Grail for Chelsea who have fallen, three times, frustratingly close to reaching the final. "I want to win it so much and have wanted to for so many years," declared captain John Terry. "We have come close for three years now and haven't reached that next level. Every player in the Chelsea dressing room desperately wants to have the Champions League. That is big factor in our careers."
Chelsea go into a tie which is delicately poised after a goalless first-leg. Although the Greek champions have not won in England on their previous visits they don't need to today. A scoring draw would be enough and the absence of an away goal, against a team who have beaten Werder Bremen and Lazio this season, is a concern. Chelsea will be haunted by the 1-1 draw against Rosenborg which was Jose Mourinho's last game in charge. Going out tonight may hurry up Grant's eventual departure also. "Pressure pushes you to achieve," the Israeli said, "I like it."
Chelsea (probable, 4-3-3): Cech; Belletti, Terry, Carvalho, A Cole; Lampard, Mikel, Ballack; J Cole, Drogba, Kalou.
Olympiakos (probable, 4-5-1): Nikopolidis; Zewlakow, Cesar, Antzas, Leonardo; Torosidis, Stoltidis, Patsatzoglou, Ledesma, Djordjevic; Kovacevic.
Referee: M Gonzalez (Spain).Reuse content