By Igor Nitsak
CHELSEA enjoyed a somewhat fortuitous return to winning ways when they beat Aston Villa on Saturday but their fragile self-confidence will face a far more severe test at Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League on Tuesday (9.45pm).
After their worst start to a domestic league season for 37 years, Jose Mourinho’s men travel to Ukraine for their Group G qualifier having won one and lost one of their two games.
Dynamo top the section with four points, the same as Porto, followed by Chelsea on three and Maccabi Tel Aviv on zero.
A win against Kiev will not only help swing the initiative in the group Chelsea’s way, but also prove they may be getting back on track after their below-par campaign so far.
Their unexpectedly poor form this season has been down to a lack of goals, the under-performing midfield partnership of Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard, unusually bad defending and Mourinho’s conflicted persona which has seen him fall out with the club doctor, criticise his players in public and fined £50,000 by the English FA for comments about referees.
Whether they can retain their Premier League title after taking just 11 points from their opening nine matches, let alone reach the latter stages of the Champions League, is doubtful but they got lucky with both goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Villa.
However, on such things seasons turn.
Striker Diego Costa scored the first goal on his return from a three-match ban after dreadful defending virtually gifted him the chance, while Chelsea’s second after the break came when a Costa shot got a huge deflection off Villa full-back Alan Hutton.
Mourinho must decide whether to restore Hazard to the starting line-up after dropping him on Saturday and whether he will give teenage prospect Ruben Loftus-Cheek another Champions League chance after starting him against Maccabi a month ago.
At least the Chelsea coach has no new injury worries with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois his only long-term absentee.
While Chelsea ended a run of two straight defeats – to Porto in the Champions League and Southampton in the Premier League — Dynamo lost for the first time in the league this season on Friday.
They were thrashed 3-0 at home by rivals Shakhtar Donetsk who replaced them at the top of the Ukrainian standings on goal difference.
Influential midfielder Serhiy Rybalka missed the match with a muscle injury suffered playing for Ukraine in the recent Euro 2016 qualifier against Spain and is a doubt for Tuesday’s match.
“Rybalka is our key midfielder, he is orchestrating our game, he is aggressive and vigorous,” coach Serhiy Rebrov told reporters. “Unfortunately, Rybalka is suffering from a micro tear in his muscle, but I hope he will be fit for Chelsea.”
Mourinho travels to Kiev for the second time in less than two weeks after watching Spain beat Ukraine 1-0 in the Olimpiysky Stadium on October 12 where he would have taken note of the threat posed by Kiev striker Andriy Yarmolenko.