When the draw for the Champions League quarter-finals was made last month, in a quiet auditorium by the banks of Lake Geneva, Chelsea looked to have secured the soft option – the quarter-final debutants, Fenerbahçe. This evening, as 50,000 Turkish fans turn the Sukru Saracoglu stadium into a cauldron of noise, the tie will take on a significantly more demanding hue.
Fenerbahçe have won all five home European matches this season and while Anderlecht and CSKA Moscow are poor travellers their other victims, Internazionale, Seville and PSV Eindhoven, are decent scalps. The Turkish league leaders are also in excellent form, having won the derby with Besiktas, one of their main rivals, at the weekend.
"Everyone thinks Chelsea is the absolute favourite, but all I can say is that Chelsea players are not happy about facing Fenerbahçe in Istanbul," said Mateja Kezman. The Serb, who made little impact in front of goal during a season at Chelsea, added: "Our biggest advantage is our fantastic fans."
Sometimes their passion can boil over. When Manchester United won here in 1996, the team coach was hit by a brick as it left for the airport after the match and the Neville brothers showered with glass. Chelsea ought not be too daunted. Several of their players have been successful here with club or country, yet the venue is one reason why Avram Grant is considering a bold gamble in attack. Nicolas Anelka, who spent 18 months at Fenerbahçe between 2005-06, is being considered in place of Didier Drogba.
"I enjoyed my time in Istanbul and I am expecting a big atmosphere," said Anelka, who has played well when leading the line, but not scored in two months. "I have told my team-mates the crowd is going to be difficult as well. The most important thing is to stay focussed on our own game."
With Frank Lampard likely to be fit, Michael Ballack's place is also in danger as Grant seeks to create a platform to progress from next week's second-leg. Should Chelsea avoid defeat they will feel the task is three-quarters done, for Fenerbahçe have yet to win away in the full Champions League this season.
Zico, Fenerbahçe's manager, has vowed to attack, he said his footballing philosophy remained the same as when he had been at the heart of the wonderful Brazilian World Cup team of 1982. "My belief is to have goals and entertaining, attacking football. That is the way to play the game if you are a player or a coach."
Roman Abramovich, we are led to believe, feels the same way, but such is the pressure on Grant he must put results first, for the time being at least, so he was making no such promise to entertain yesterday. The match may thus follow the pattern of England's Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey in the same stadium in which Sven Goran Eriksson's side dug in to achieve the goalless draw they required. It was the night John Terry, who stood in for Rio Ferdinand in the wake of the latter's missed drug test, came of age in an international shirt. Now, with his form under scrutiny, would be an apposite night to repeat that defiant performance.
Fenerbahçe are without suspended right-back Gökhan Gönül, injured midfield general Stephen Appiah, and, probably, Roberto Carlos. The Brazilian left-back has had a shin problem and is expected to start on the bench. He will be joined there by Colin Kazim-Richards, the former Brighton and Sheffield United striker, who played well and made a goal at the weekend but makes way for Deivid, another Brazilian. In all six South Americans, four of them from Brazil, are expected to start for Fenerbahçe with Alex, an influential playmaker, the man Chelsea need to watch. A job for Claude Makelele.
While Chelsea have become regular semi-finalists, no Turkish team has ever reached the last four of the Champions League, but this one are talking a good game and will be dangerous if they can build momentum. "It's the most important game in the club's history. The team is aware of that and aiming to give it our best shot," said midfielder Ugur Boral. "We are talented, fit and strong, so there is no reason for us to fail."
He added: "I think the other English teams are stronger than Chelsea." Anelka would not agree. He said he believed Chelsea's squad was equal to the Real Madrid group he won the Champions League with in 2000, a team which included Roberto Carlos.
Anelka, incidentally, is one of six players at Chelsea to have won the Champions League with various, other, clubs. It makes for a formidable body of experience but as Zico said, the match is not about "what names or what coach you have, but what you do on the pitch."