Leverkusen v Chelsea preview
Chelsea aim to put their recent domestic woes behind them with Champions League qualification at Bayer Leverkusen.
By Jonathan Jurejko
Last Updated: 23/11/11 12:16pm
Chelsea are aiming to put their recent domestic woes behind them by clinching qualification for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League at Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday night.
Blues manager Andre Villas-Boas has been feeling the heat this week after seeing his side slump to their worst Premier League start in the Roman Abramovich era.
But victory at the BayArena will seal the Blues' passage into the last 16 of Europe's elite competition and perhaps give the Portuguese boss some much-needed breathing space.
Even a draw may be enough should Group E rivals Valencia slip up when they host bottom side Genk.
Should 2008 runners-up Chelsea progress it will be the ninth straight season they have reached the knockout stages of the tournament.
Question marks have been raised over Villas-Boas' future after the west London club tumbled to their third defeat in four Premier League games with Sunday's 2-1 home loss to Liverpool.
The 34-year-old, who only replaced Carlo Ancelotti in the summer, has been widely criticised for sticking to an attacking philosophy which has left Chelsea's ageing backline looking increasingly fragile.
And Leverkusen will fancy their chances of exposing their defensive vulnerability to pile more pressure on Villas-Boas.
The German side, skippered by ex-Blue Michael Ballack, lost 2-0 in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge in September.
But they have won both home games since the opening-day defeat and need another victory to leap ahead of unbeaten Chelsea in the race for the last 16.
Chelsea will be without French striker Nicolas Anelka, who was left out of the Blues' travelling party - fuelling speculation he is set to leave Stamford Bridge.
Right-back Paulo Ferreira was also left behind in London, with long-term injury victim Michael Essien another absentee.
Teenage striker Romen Lukaku misses out as he is ineligible.
Leverkusen's major decision comes over the fitness of Germany international Andre Schurrle, who was ruled out of Saturday's 2-0 win at Bundesliga rivals Kaiserslautern through illness.
The winger has been named in Robin Dutt's squad after training on Monday and Tuesday, but may only be well enough for a place on the bench.
Ballack is set to start his 100th European match and could play without wearing the protective facemask he has worn since breaking his nose last month.