A closer look at Chelsea’s Champions League opponents
Chelsea have arguably been handed the toughest draw of the English clubs in the Champions League with Ajax, Lille and Valencia joining them in Group H.
The Stamford Bridge club are rated as the favourites with the bookmakers to top the group but Frank Lampard’s men will face a few tests in the opening round of Europe’s top tournament.
Dutch champions Ajax were the surprise package in the Champions League last season as they reached the last four, only to be dumped out by Spurs in heartbreaking fashion with a Lucas Moura goal at the death proving the difference.
The Amsterdam giants have lost some of their stars from last season as Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt left for Barcelona and Juventus respectively, while Kasper Dolberg is now at Nice, but they remain a quality team regardless.
Keeper Andre Onana played a key role in helping Ajax reach the semi-finals last season and was linked with a summer exit, but instead signed a new deal at the Ajax Arena.
The shot-stopper remains a vital member of the Ajax team and has already proved crucial in Europe this season as he pulled off a number of saves to help his side claim a 0-0 draw in the searing Cypriot heat at APOEL Nicosia in qualifying.
Attacking midfielder Hakim Ziyech was expected to join De Jong and De Light in departing Ajax this summer but he snubbed interest from Sevilla, deciding it didn’t represent a step up to join the La Liga club.
Ziyech hit five goals in 17 games in Europe for Ajax last term and has started this season with a bang with two goals in four games in all competitions, and if Chelsea are to get the better of the Eredivisie club in the group stages they will have to work out a way to keep the Moroccan quiet.
French outfit Lille are back in the big time in Europe for the first time since 2012 as they finished best of the rest behind Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 last term.
Les Dogues have lost Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal over the summer but a familiar face could come back to haunt Chelsea when these sides face off in the group stages.
Former Blues striker Loic Remy joined Lille last summer and managed a modest haul of five goals in 25 games last season. The 32-year-old should have a bit more responsibility this season after Pepe’s exit, and forwards do have a habit of scoring against their old clubs so he could be the biggest threat to Chelsea in the Lille side.
Valencia have reached the Champions League group stages for the second successive season and on paper probably have the strongest squad Chelsea will come up against in Group H.
Former Benfica man Rodrigo, who spent a season on loan in England with Bolton as a youngster, is the key threat in the Los Che attack.
Valencia have plenty of attacking talent with Denis Cheryshev, Kevin Gameiro and Maxi Gomez among their options but Rodrigo is arguably their standout performer up front.
Geoffrey Kondogbia and Francis Coquelin
Valencia have a solid defence and holding midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia and Francis Coquelin, formerly of Arsenal, are important cogs in their back line machine.
If Chelsea are to get the better of Valencia they will have to find a way through their mean defence, and beating Kondogbia and Coquelin is likely to be the first part of that particular puzzle.
Gareth Freeman is an experienced journalist who can offer in-depth knowledge on a host of sports, especially football, tennis, snooker and basketball.