Updated: Sep 1, 2019
At yesterday’s draw, Chelsea learned their Group H opponents for their return to the Champions League.
The Blues will face last season’s shock semifinalists Ajax, as well as Spain’s Valencia and France’s Lille.
Sitting in Pot 1, Chelsea were drawn first. And as each subsequent opponent joined them in the group, they had to have felt more and more excited. This combination of teams is one of the best Chelsea could have asked for and will provide a great litmus test for this young team led by a young manager.
First things first, the biggest positive for the London club is they avoided all of the big hitters in Pot 2 - Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, and Napoli. The only weaker side than Ajax that Chelsea could’ve dreamed of is Shakhtar Donetsk or Benfica.
Read more: Tough, But Great UCL Draw For Chelsea.
And even from Pot 3, Chelsea missed Inter Milan. Without having to face any of Europe’s top 10, Frank Lampard and co. already have a great chance of progressing through the group stage, whereas if they had a much tougher draw, they wouldn’t be favorites to advance.
This is by far one of the only draws that provide Chelsea a shot, and a good one at that, to play in the Champions League knockouts come February. With that said, it’s not all sunshine and roses at Stamford Bridge.
This group is also a brilliant litmus test for Chelsea. Firstly, regardless of the group opponents, can the youngsters like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, and Christian Pulisic handle playing every three days in the Premier League, Champions League, as well as the domestic cups?
Also for Chelsea, this UCL group will reveal a lot about the club and its talent level. If they cruise through the group, the youngsters are ahead of schedule and ready to compete with Europe’s best. And same goes for Lampard as manager.
And what a major confidence boost that would be. Not only can they compete in the Champions League, but win and advance. That goes a long way for young players.
If Chelsea had to play Real Madrid and Inter Milan in the group, that would've been a nightmare. Yes, "iron sharpens iron." But diamonds destroy iron into dust. And that kind of pounding from Europe's elite could damage confidence.
Of course, you want to test yourself against the best. But the Blues will get enough of that in the Premier League.
If Chelsea struggle against Ajax, Valencia, and Lille? Wow! That would be a major disappointment. The Dutch side impressed as a marvelous Cinderella story last season, but were they really one of the best four sides on the continent? Probably not. Plus, after losing two of their core and spine, Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, Ajax may have reloaded this season, but not to the same level. If Chelsea can’t compete with them, that’s a huge sign of where the Blues sit.
The other two, Valencia and Lille, are far from competing for their own domestic titles and would have a 0% chance of advancing in most of this season’s Champions League groups. So, if Chelsea grapple for just a point against them, surely they aren’t ready for the bright lights of the UCL knockouts.
Chelsea’s Champions League group is without a doubt the best they could’ve asked for. It's easy enough to advance and it's perfect for assessing the squad's talent level and testing the players' limits.
Chelsea are in for a vital next few months as they navigate the Champions League group stage and appraise their squad and new manager.