London: A season after spirit and good fortune swept Chelsea to an unlikely Champions League title, the defending champions will be relying on those same qualities to avoid an unprecedented elimination on Wednesday.
Chelsea must win at home against FC Nordsjaelland and hope Juventus loses at already-qualified Shakhtar Donetsk if the English team is to avoid becoming the first reigning champion to exit at the group stage.
The odds are stacked against Chelsea, especially considering their woeful form under Rafael Benitez since he came in as interim manager.
Chelsea are without a victory in Benitez's three matches and the Spaniard's pragmatic, defensive style of play hasn't endeared him to the Chelsea fans who are unhappy with the manner and abruptness of Di Matteo's dismissal.
Benitez has been jeered before, during and after each of his matches and even admitted after Saturday's 3-1 loss at West Ham in the Premier League that he didn't know whether he would survive his seven-month temporary stint.
“These are players that have won the Champions League and have won a lot of trophies so they have to show this character, but they need a little more confidence,” Benitez said. “Some players can show character but if you have one or two and they are not playing at the level then the team as a team is suffering.”
The problem for Benitez is that some of the key players behind Chelsea's title-winning campaign last season haven't been available to him.
Didier Drogba - the match-winner against Bayern Munich in the final - is no longer with the club while stalwarts John Terry and Frank Lampard have been out
What Benitez has in his favour is Champions League know-how. He won the competition with Liverpool in 2005 and reached the final in 2007, with Benitez’s team knocking Chelsea out at the semifinal stage in both years.
Benfica, on the other hand, have enough quality to get the result they need to reach the last 16 away at Barcelona, whether or not the already-qualified Catalans decide to rest Lionel Messi for their final Group G game, coach Jorge Jesus said.
The “Eagles” are second in Group G, level on seven points with Celtic, but have a better head-to-head record than the Scottish outfit. They need to achieve a result that at least matches Celtic’s at home to Spartak to reach the quarters.
The Argentine forward netted twice in the 5-1 rout of Athletic Bilbao in La Liga on Saturday, and is now just one goal short of Mueller's tally.
The victory also saw Vilanova's unbeaten side extend their lead at the top in Spain to six points and set a new La Liga record start to a season as they racked up their 13th victory in 14 games.
World Player of the Year Messi created both goals in Barca’s 2-0 win in Lisbon in October and may get another stab at beating former Germany and Bayern Munich striker Gerd Mueller’s record of 85 goals scored in a calendar year set back in 1972.