Defending Champions Chelsea are Eliminated from Champions League

Juventus sealed their spot in the Champions League Knockout Round Wednesday as they defeated Shakhtar Donetsk to top Group E. Meanwhile, Chelsea played a phenomenal game against Danish Champions Nordsjaelland, which ended in a 6-1 victory with 2 goals Fernando Torres, who has been considerably dormant for much of the season.

Chelsea vs NordsjaellandBut despite their efforts to move on, the Ukrainians just edged the European Giants, making Chelsea the first reigning champions ever to be eliminated in the group stage of the league. The final count sees Juventus on top of the group with a total of 12 points, Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea with 10 apiece, and Nordsjaelland sitting at the bottom with only 1 point.

Shakhtar barely won the head-to-head tiebreaker with Chelsea. The 2 teams were virtually equal in the first 3 criteria in settling a tie, but the Ukrainians finally prevailed in the 4th, which requires a:

“Higher number of goals scored away from home in the group matches
played among the teams in question.”

Shakhtar did indeed score more goals at Stamford Bridge than Chelsea did at Donbass Arena, and holding a 2-1 advantage over the English in this criteria, they just managed to squeeze into the knockout round.

But despite the Champions League elimination, interim Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez overcame a spectacular milestone: He finally guided Chelsea to their 1st win in 7 games and their 1st ever win since Di Matteo’s sacking.

Chelsea hammered Nordsjaelland and won 6-1, but Benitez had no control over the other game happening in Group E. Chelsea knew that if Juventus got 1 or more points in that match, it was over for their Champions League run, and as the Italians clinched a 1-0 victory of Shakhtar, that is exactly what had happened.

The Chelsea locker-room following their final game of this year’s Champions League was filled with emotions, none of which were happiness or joy. Rafael Benitez said:

“I think always when you win it is a positive. When it is at home it is even better. The way we won, we had 32 attempts and 18 on target, is really good. When you win you have to be happy but at same time we are disappointed as we didn’t progress.”

But Chelsea’s competing at the European stage this season is all but over. Now that they are into the final 32 of the Europa League (3rd placed teams in each Champions League group get direct entry into the Europa League Knockout Round), Chelsea still have a hard battle to fight if they want to be crowned champions of that league. But despite a chance at redemption in the Europa League, without a doubt, the Champions League is more popular and is valued much more highly.

Fernando TorresRafael Benitez also hopes to reignite the old Fernando Torres, the one we saw win the Golden Boot Award at the Euros just 5 months ago. He has scored only 4 goals in the Premier League thus far, but his 2 goals in the Chelsea-Nordsjaelland game could possibly be his “turning-point” in the 2012-2013 season. Taking about Torres in the press-conference following the game, Benitez also said:

“He has to score. He was playing well and the team was helping him. If we create chances he will score goals.”

Now that the Champions League is no longer a burden Chelsea has to deal with, they must set their focus completely on the Premier League. The first few months of this year’s Premier League saw Chelsea thrive, standing atop the table undefeated. But their success began dwindling after their loss to Manchester United near the end of October. Ever since that game, Chelsea has not won a single domestic match and has only picked up 4 points from their last 7 games in the league.

But not only are they trying to top the Premier League, they are desperately grasping at a chance to qualify for next year’s Champions League, in which they hope to have more success. Had they not won the Champions League last year, they would not have qualified this year, ending in 6th place in the Premier League last year. Similar results will not push them to the Champions League, though, now that they won’t be crowned champions this year.

The Premier League table sees Manchester United on top with 36 points, while Manchester City is in a close 2nd with 33 points. Chelsea sits 10 points behind the league leaders with only 26 points. The Blue Lions are tied with Tottenham (4th) and West Bromwich Albion (5th) in terms of points, but their goal difference places them into the top 3.

Chelsea must close their gap with United and City if they want a chance at gaining Premiership this season, and although the season is nowhere near over, it must begin with a win over 17th placed Sunderland this Saturday.