Chelsea are faced by Dutch dilemma

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Chelsea set out on the second stage - sorry "phase" - of their inaugural European Cup campaign at Stamford Bridge this evening, against opponents who are harder to read than most. While it is true, as Feyenoord's canny old coach, Leo Beenhakker says, that in the video age there can be few secrets in football any more, he presides over a squad of players hardly known outside the Netherlands, whose record this season bears little relation to logic.

Chelsea set out on the second stage - sorry "phase" - of their inaugural European Cup campaign at Stamford Bridge this evening, against opponents who are harder to read than most. While it is true, as Feyenoord's canny old coach, Leo Beenhakker says, that in the video age there can be few secrets in football any more, he presides over a squad of players hardly known outside the Netherlands, whose record this season bears little relation to logic.

Runaway winners of the Dutch League last time, Feyenoord currently lag unthinkably far behind their traditional rivals Ajax and PSV in 10th position; their last two games have been drawn 3-3, the most recent of them after casually tossing away a 3-0 lead. In the Champions' League they progressed thus far as runners-up in one of the less demanding groups, by winning only one of their six matches, at home to Rosenborg, while drawing the other five.

Throw in injury doubts over some key players, like the captain, Jean-Paul van Gastel, and the Argentinian striker, Julio Cruz, and it is not surprising that Gianluca Vialli's analysis yesterday was a little short on specifics. "I think it will be difficult because Feyenoord is a very solid team, especially away from home," he ventured. "They haven't lost yet, which means they can defend and play counter-attack. So we don't want to get carried away."

Ed de Goey, the goalkeeper signed from Feyenoord two years ago, has chipped in as much information as he can, but such is the turnover of squads - and coaches - these days that he played with barely half the present team and not under Beenhakker.

De Goey believes the number of games and the amount of travelling caused by the bloated Champions' League programme is behind Feyenoord's - and Chelsea's - failure to live up to expectations in their domestic competition.

It is a widespread phenomenon, for as Vialli points out: "We're not the only ones struggling in the league, if you look at Barcelona and Real Madrid, Berlin and Feyenoord. At the moment Lazio and Manchester United are probably the only ones doing well in both competitions. So to do that must be our aim."

Saturday's performance at Everton, even allowing for Frank Leboeuf's red card and an undeserved late equalising goal by Tore Andre Flo, suggested there is still a long way to go. In Chris Sutton's absence through suspension, Gianfranco Zola, left out at Goodison, will presumably partner Flo in a more balanced attack. Gabriele Ambrosetti's hamstring injury means the loss of a useful, if erratic option but the return of Gustavo Poyet on the left and Denis Wise in-field should more than compensate.

Feyenoord travel to a venue at which the home side have never been beaten in 31 European games, without any of their own supporters, whose notoriety out-does even Chelsea's. The Dutch side will find Stamford Bridge a lonely place and, unpredictable or not, would surely be delighted to settle for yet another draw.

Chelsea (probable): De Goey; Ferrer, Leboeuf, Desailly, Babayaro; Petrescu, Wise, Deschamps, Poyet; Flo, Zola.

Feyenoord (from): Dudek; Gyan, Van Gobbel, De Haan, Konterman, Rzasa, Bosvelt, Van Wonderen, Van Gastel, Samardzic, Kalou, Cruz, Somalia, Tomasson.

Comments