Following last season's disappointing exit at the hands of Manchester United, Roman Abramovich and his Chelsea team start another journey towards the one trophy that has eluded them during his tenure as manager. Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, both brilliant and accomplished managers, were hired to deliver the UEFA Champions League title after winning it with other clubs, but both failed.
It seems like Abramovich is trying a new approach this time around, hiring a young, up-and-coming manager and presumably giving him a longer leash. Andre Villas-Boas should have the freedom to try out some bold new ideas and fail, but that's not to say that failure is acceptable. The goal is still to win the Champions League, and the Blues will have their hands full with Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday.
Though their opposition, Augsburg, was not the highest quality this weekend, they were still extremely impressive in their 4-1 win. Augsburg started quickly and dominated the first five minutes, but they were never in the game afterwards as Bayer were dominant for the next 85 minutes. There was one major talking point that stemmed from that match, and that talking point carries over into mid-week.
For the first 15 minutes of the first half, though Bayer were the better team, they were average. They didn't look sharp and were struggling to create chances. In the 60th minute, veteran midfielder and former Chelsea player Michael Ballack was substituted out for Andre Schürrle. The young German starlet - already a fixture in the national team at 20 years old - changed the game considerably. Though he did not score himself, Bayer scored two goals after he came on with much of the play running through him.
Manager Robin Dutt has a massive decision to make. It's very difficult to fit all of the talented midfield players that he has into one squad, and someone has to be left out. After this weekend's match, there's an increasing amount of outcry for that player to be Ballack.
The double pivot of Lars Bender and Simon Rolfes seems to be all but set in stone, and against an opponent of Chelsea's quality, it could be a potentially dangerous decision to drop one of them and play Ballack in a deeper role. The other two men that played with Ballack on the band of three in Bayer's 4-2-3-1 formation - Renato Augusto and Sidney Sam - can both play anywhere along the band of three.
Schürrle is simply too good to leave out. Between his four goals in eight games for Germany, his 15 goals for Mainz last season and his play when he came on against Augsburg, it's obvious that he needs to be a fixture in Bayer's side, while it's equally obvious that Ballack's best days are behind him. What Dutt does with these players will almost certainly be his biggest decision, both going into the match against Chelsea and going forward this season.
Chelsea are dealing with injuries and suspensions, particularly in the center of midfield, making Dutt's selections all the more important. Ramires is suspended, while Michael Essien suffered a serious knee injury in preseason, leaving the Blues a bit shorthanded in the center of the pitch. John Obi Mikel and Raul Meireles will almost certainly start, while Frank Lampard looks likely to start as well. Villas-Boas could opt to move Florent Malouda inside or give a start to youngster Josh McEachran, but either would be a mild surprise.
Villas-Boas has plenty of decisions to make elsewhere, but that's not a bad thing. His squad and the variety of players at his disposal give him a number of different tactical options. At the back, his biggest decision is whether to start Jose Bosingwa, a great attacking player who is suspect defensively, or Branislav Ivanovic, a defensive rock who is limited going forward, at right back. This is assuming that John Terry and David Luiz make up the starting central defense pairing, which seems extremely likely but is not a stone-cold lock.
Up top, who starts is anyone guess. Put the names Fernando Torres, Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda, Juan Mata, Daniel Sturridge and Solomon Kalou into a hat. Pick three names out of the hat. There's your starting three for Chelsea on Tuesday. Didier Drogba is still out with a concussion.
Bayer Leverkusen (4-2-3-1): Bernd Leno; Daniel Schwaab, Ömer Toprak, Stefan Reinartz, Gonzalo Castro; Lars Bender, Simon Rolfes; Sidney Sam, Renato Augusto, Andreas Schürrle; Eren Derdiyok
Bayer Leverkusen are worthy opposition for the Blues, but they should be too strong at home. Bayer's center of defense is slightly questionable, so perhaps Fernando Torres can get back on track with a good match? 2-1 Chelsea.
The match will be played at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, September 13th, kicking off at 7:45 PM BST (2:45 PM EST; 11:45 AM PST). SB Nation Soccer will be providing live text coverage of the match as it happens. For more on Chelsea FC and this match, head over to SB Nation's Chelsea blog We Ain't Got No History. Check out SB Nation Soccer for news and updates on all of the UEFA Champions League action.