Reigning holders and runaway German champions Bayern Munich, who beat Chelsea 7-1 on aggregate in last season’s Champions League knockout phase, are one of seven top-seeded teams Lampard’s men could face.
Frank Lampard’s second season as Chelsea manager comes with far higher expectations than his first, and with the arrival of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner compensating for the loss of Eden Hazard, the Blues are far better equipped to fight on two fronts next term.
Here is an early projection of the best and worst possible Champions League groups Chelsea could be drawn into come October.
Why are Chelsea not a ‘top seed’?
In the Champions League, the 32 group stage teams are split into four pots based on their UEFA coefficient, with each of the eight groups featuring one team from every pot. UEFA coefficients are determined by a team’s history in the competition, and successes over a five-year period.
Regardless of coefficient, six league champions – those representing more successful countries – will be automatically placed in ‘pot 1’, alongside the Champions League holders and Europa League winners from the previous campaign. With Chelsea winning the Europa League in 2019, they were top-seeded in pot 1, and protected against the very best teams around. This helped the Blues progress from the group stage later that year.
As Chelsea ended 2019/20 without a trophy, that protection will not apply in October’s Champions League group stage draw. Depending on how kind (or unkind) the fates are, this could promise anything between a lucky escape and a group from hell.
Worst case scenario
Only pot 1’s English champions Liverpool, as a fellow English side, cannot face Chelsea any sooner than the knockout phase’s round of 16. However, any of the other seven pot 1 sides would await Chelsea:
Ahead of the new Premier League season, current soccer wagering markets available on FOX Bet show that Chelsea are more than a match for anyone, with the only possible exceptions being fellow Champions League participants – namely, Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City.
In the Champions League, meanwhile, facing either of Real Madrid or Bayern would be especially galling for Chelsea, with the latter club thrashing them 7-1 on aggregate in last season’s knockout phase, and romping to the title.
It could get worse still though, as Inter’s recent absences from the Champions League knockouts have seen them relegated to pot 3. Armed with the twin threat of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez – and Christian Eriksen in the number ten position – the ‘Nerazzurri’ fell short of Italian champions Juventus by just one point in the 2019/20 Serie A campaign.
In turn, this year’s losing Europa League finalists are seen as a potential dark horse in the 2020/21 Champions League, and have good grounds to believe that they can go all the way in next season’s European odyssey.
‘Pot 4’ teams not to be underestimated
As for pot 4, only two teams – of an eventual eight – have been confirmed to occupy it, and they are Rennes and Istanbul Basaksehirspor. Neither should pose Chelsea a real problem, but they could eventually be joined by at least one of Marseille and Borussia Mönchengladbach in the pot.
Both teams would be strong by ‘pot 4’ standards, having enjoyed good campaigns in their respective leagues last term. It is any consolation to Chelsea, who qualified for the Champions League in drastic circumstances last season, Borussia could not join Lampard’s men in a group if Bayern had already been drawn into it.
Above: Chelsea’s all-time European record vs teams from other nations represented in pot 1 of the 2020/21 group stage.
No easy groups in the Champions League
In the aftermath of any group stage draw, there are always some groups immediately deemed easier than others. Based on UEFA coefficients alone, being drawn into Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg’s group would be an ideal start for Chelsea. Even so, the long trip to Russia has been underestimated by other teams seen as stronger, and regardless of the result, it has often impacted on the team’s next domestic league game due to travel fatigue.
Of the sides that entered September confirmed to be in pot 3, Atalanta are the most favourable pick. Again, however, this is based on their relatively lower UEFA coefficient, and they will feel confident after reaching the quarter finals in last year’s competition. Impressively, that was their maiden appearance after a third placed finish in the 2018/19 Serie A season.
Lampard boasts vital winning legacy
As the man who captained Chelsea to success on the pitch in the 2012 Champions League final, Frank Lampard knows better than anyone just what it takes for Chelsea to overcome underdog status and win the big one. Yet, with Chelsea not among the top seeds in the group stage draw, the Blues undeniably face an uphill battle to regain their place at the pinnacle of Europe.