Chelsea travels to Maribor, Sporting hosts Schalke
LONDON (AP) — Unbeaten in all competitions this season, Chelsea has been in stellar form and could ensure itself a spot in the knockout stage of the Champions League with a win on Wednesday.
Victory over Maribor in Group G, along with Sporting Lisbon failing to beat Schalke, would be enough for the London club to advance.
Sporting, looking to turn around its season, is winless in this season’s tournament and sixth in the Portuguese league. But the team was denied a point against Schalke in October when Adrien Silva was penalized for handball, although replays showed the ball hit his chest.
Here are some things to know about Wednesday’s matches:
CHELSEA EYES KNOCKOUT STAGE
Chelsea has already beaten Maribor, routing the Slovenian club 6-0 at Stamford Bridge in October, and leads the Premier League by four points.
But Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho will be looking for an improvement on Wednesday after saying his team’s “collective performance was not there” in the 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
“In the end we deserved to win but the result could’ve been more than such a narrow result,” Mourinho said. “We have to be more consistent and play better.”
Schalke travels to Portugal without attacking midfielder Julian Draxler, who is out for the year with a hamstring injury. But another midfielder, Kevin-Prince Boateng, should be back.
The absence of Draxler, however, will hurt Schalke’s attack. A member of Germany’s World Cup squad, Draxler’s speed is crucial to Schalke’s counterattacks.
Schalke has stabilized under coach Roberto di Matteo, winning three of four games under his guidance.
“You always have to try to score at least one goal away,” Di Matteo said. “We want to be organized in defense and then try to execute a few counterattacks.”
Schalke has been bolstered by the return of defensive midfielder Jan Kirchhoff from injury, who is on loan from Bayern Munich.
“We are going to Lisbon to win and all but clinch a slot in the knockout round,” Kirchhoff said.
Sporting’s players host Schalke after being criticized by their president.
Sporting dropped to sixth place in the Portuguese league after a meek display in a 3-0 loss at Guimaraes. The team has only four wins from nine games in the domestic championship.
On top of that, Sporting is winless after three Champions League games.
Sporting president Bruno de Carvalho said the team had embarrassed the club.
“They didn’t show any commitment or desire to win,” Carvalho said of the match against Guimaraes. “It’s time for them to show they are worthy of this club.”
MARIBOR WANTS RESPONSE
Maribor’s preparation for Chelsea was hampered Friday by a 1-0 loss to Slovenian league leader Domzale.
“We have to recuperate as soon as possible and focus our attention on what lies ahead,” Maribor coach Ante Simundze said. “Waking up after a victory is easier than after a defeat, but the guys have to hold their heads up high and believe in themselves. And they must focus their energy toward a new challenge.”
Maribor is third in Group G after drawing 1-1 in its other matches against Sporting and Schalke.
AP Sports Writer Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt and Associated Press writer Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, contributed to this report.