Genk revival sends warning to Villas-Boas
Belgian side were thrashed two weeks ago... but claim they have the power to surprise
Sometimes a fixture comes along at just the right time. Chelsea are hoping that tonight's Champions League match against opposition they brushed aside 5-0 a fortnight ago comes into that category, although those who worry about tempting fate may still find cause for unease.
At Stamford Bridge KRC Genk looked exactly like a team who had scraped into the group stages for the first time in nine years – which they did by beating Maccabi Haifia on penalties – and believed they should not being sharing a stage with the likes of Chelsea. Rankings based on 20 years of the Champions League put them in 95th place, which appeared flattering if anything as they conceded two goals in the first 12 minutes, four by half-time and five in all. Finishing fourth in the group on their only previous appearance, they sit in the same position after three games, without having scored a goal.
Why worry? Only because just as Chelsea were hitting a low point in their season last Saturday, with the evisceration by Arsenal, Genk struck a new high. Four-two down away to third-placed Bruges with 20 minutes to play, they scored three times for a memorable victory as Kevin de Bruyne, the half-English midfielder desperate to impress Chelsea, completed a hat-trick.
Suddenly, at the Belgian champions' training ground yesterday, the mood was more buoyant. "We take with us the excellent feeling of our victory over Bruges," the coach Mario Been said. "Of course we play against a club that can easily line up three different teams, all of them top European players. But we will take on the game differently than the first leg. We showed way too much respect for the opponent. At home, in front of a capacity crowd we will have our chances, I'm sure. The only thing we have to do is to cash in on at least one of them. And we do have the quality to do that."
De Bruyne, who has claimed a deal to take him to London was close last summer, was playing down his three fine goals at the weekend, but he is clearly determined to make more of this audition than he did in the first game: "We gained a lot of confidence in the Bruges game and I scored three times. But we won as a team. And we have to take on Chelsea as a team. What have we got to lose? Playing against this type of world top teams is a player's dream." Sensibly, he is playing down his personal ambitions: "My relationship with Chelsea is not important. So far nothing has been signed."
Jose Bosingwa having played so poorly against Arsenal, it is possible that De Bruyne will again find himself up against the more powerful Branislav Ivanovic, who was not much better on Saturday, but kept the young Belgian quiet in the first game. John Terry was rested on that occasion but will not willingly miss out this time. His partner could be either Alex, who has not so far found much favour with Andre Villas-Boas, or David Luiz. Other candidates for demotion are John Obi Mikel, Ramires and Daniel Sturridge, while Juan Mata or even Frank Lampard could be rested. Didier Drogba did not travel after having treatment to an elbow injury, so Fernando Torres should have the chance to build on his two goals against the Belgian side last time.
A full house of 21,500 at the modest Cristal Stadium will be another encouraging factor for Genk, whose fans performed infinitely better than their team in London. Chelsea, if they concentrate better than on Saturday, should nevertheless be too strong for them again.
A full house of 21,500 at the modest Cristal Stadium will be an encouraging factor for Genk. Villas-Boas said: "I have experience of playing here and it's a stadium of great intensity. We had a difficult time here last year with Porto. We got a tremendous result, but it was not easy." Chelsea, if they concentrate better than on Saturday, should nevertheless be too strong for them again.
Branislav Ivanovic v Kevin de Bruyne
De Bruyne is hoping to impress Chelsea, who have been monitoring him for some time. Scored a hat-trick last weekend and he says that he hopes "we will now see the real Genk".
John Terry v Jelle Vossen
Chelsea's central defensive pairing is difficult to predict but Terry, assuming he plays, will be up against Genk's leading scorer, who hit 20 goals in last season's championship win.
Fernando Torres v Khaleem Hyland
Torres will aim to get at Genk's defence, which includes the Trinidad & Tobago star who nearly joined Portsmouth three years ago, once again.
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