By Michael Harrold
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich returns to Russia on Tuesday knowing another victory over PFC CSKA Moskva will see his side safely through to the UEFA Champions League's knockout stages.
Chelsea were comfortable 2-0 winners over CSKA two weeks ago, and Abramovich will be hoping for a fourth straight Group H win when the sides meet again. But CSKA have qualification in their sights too, and for coach Valeri Gazzaev, a single point could decide a tight three-way battle for second place. "We have a task to advance from this group, and each point will take us a step closer to our goal," he said.
CSKA are second with four points after drawing 0-0 at FC Porto then beating Paris Saint-Germain FC 2-0 in their previous home match. John Terry and Eidur Gudjohnsen's first-half goals at Stamford Bridge were the first CSKA have conceded, but Gazzaev sees room for improvement. "It was very disappointing to allow two goals from set-pieces in the first match, so we'll pay special attention to this," he said.
CSKA lead the Russian Premier League with two games to play, but the race for the title was thrown wide open by their surprise 1-1 draw with FC Krylya Sovetov Samara on Saturday. That result suggested to some that CSKA might be tiring as the domestic season draws to a close, but Gazzaev insisted his side would be ready for Chelsea. "Not a single player has complained of fatigue to me," he said. "
If we want to be among Europe's best, we need to stop talking about the tough calendar and fatigue. That can't be an excuse."
Gazzaev will be without wing-back Chidi Odiah, who injured his shoulder in the recent 3-0 win over title rivals FC Zenit St. Petersburg, but hopes to welcome back Ivica Olic after a thigh injury. Daniel Carvalho is doubtful, but fellow midfield player Evgeni Aldonin should feature despite picking up a knock against Krylya.
Chelsea coach José Mourinho is expecting an awkward evening, describing CSKA as their "most difficult" opponents so far. "
I think in the first three matches, the CSKA game was the most difficult, especially at the beginning of the game," he said. "PSG have become better and better and so they are still a good side and Porto are European champions. We have had a good start and have nine points. It has left us in a very good position."
Indeed Mourinho's men are surging with confidence. The pain of a first defeat of the season at Manchester City FC has been eased by comprehensive victories over Blackburn Rovers FC and West Bromwich Albion FC which has wiped out Arsenal FC's five-point lead at the top of the Premiership table.
And the goals are finally flowing: Chelsea's eight in their past two Premiership matches, including four for Gudjohnsen, matches their total for their previous nine league games. All this without the injured Dider Drogba and banned Adrian Mutu. Gudjohnsen and Mateja Kezman are the only fit strikers at Mourinho's disposal, though the excellent form of Arjen Robben on his return from injury provides an extra attacking option.
Chelsea's Russian midfield player Alexei Smertin expects a frosty reception at a sold-out Lokomotiv stadium, and admitted he would not be surprised if an impressive CSKA side qualified for the knockout stages. "CSKA are a good team and they can go a long way," he said. The former FC Lokomotiv Moskva man is a doubt after training apart from the side on Monday.
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