When Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich, paid a world-record compensation fee of €15 million (£13.3m) to Porto for Andre Villas-Boas last summer, it was not with the primary intention of winning the Carling Cup. So while a home defeat by Liverpool last Tuesday – the second in 10 days – was as welcome as a warm glass of lager, the disappointment was more easily digested. Defeat in the fourth most important competition of the season is one thing, but going out of the Champions' League this Tuesday would be something else.
If the size of his fee was Villas-Boas's first Chelsea record, failing to reach Christmas in Europe would be his second. For nine successive seasons the club have come through the group stage, often with something to spare. At one point, their record was semi-finalists five times in six years under five different managers (two of them in the same season).
Now the failure to prise more than a single point from away games against Genk and Bayer Leverkusen means that a home defeat or even a score draw against Valencia would cast them down among the also-rans of the Europa League – a tournament Villas-Boas must have thought he had left behind in the Dublin final last May as a stepping stone from Porto to supposedly greater things.
The scoring draw is a quirk, and an irritating one. A goalless draw, which Chelsea would be unwise to play for, would give them a better head-to-head record against Valencia, with whom they drew 1-1 in Spain, but the Spaniards now have a better goal difference, so any score-draw would put Valencia through with Leverkusen, cranking up the already uncomfortable pressure on the manager.
Arsenal, having been gazing up at Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs all season in the Premier League, have already won their group so Arsène Wenger can field what would normally be regarded as his Carling Cup team away to Olympiakos on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, City not only have to beat Group A winners Bayern Munich but hope Villarreal, without a point so far, can prevent Napoli winning in Spain. United must win or draw in Basle to stay in second place, ahead of the Swiss.
Champions' League this week
Tuesday Chelsea v Valencia (7.45pm, Sky Sports 2); Olympiakos v Arsenal (7.45pm, Sky Sports 4).
Wednesday Basle v Manchester United (7.45pm, ITV1); Manchester City v Bayern Munich (7.45pm, Sky Sports 2)