The week ahead: Charlton, Werder Bremen and Jose's old friend Rafa…

In a little over twenty-four hours, fans of all things Blue will turn their attention to the pitch at Stamford Bridge. After a week of international football and the never-ending Gallasgate soap opera, the sight of eleven men in Chelsea shirts on the glorious green turf (Charlton fans, take note) will come as a truly welcome relief. Football, rather than statements and slanging matches, is the primary business of the club lest we forget.

With three home games in eight days, two of which could be regarded as having huge significance on the outcome of the season, Jose Mourinho will have been relieved that the players on international duty returned to him unscathed. The added bonus that none of his men tasted defeat will also have been pleasing.

More specific details of the games are available here, but the highlights proved to be John Terry’s superb performance against Macedonia while new boys Ballack and Shevchenko both scored in victories over San Marino and Georgia respectively. In terms of the Germany game, it might be impolite to suggest that not scoring when your team put thirteen goals past the opposition would be fairly shameful: viewpoints differ greatly, but the debate over such farcical international mismatches rages on.

And so to Charlton. The departure of Alan Curbishley after more than 700 games in charge was always likely to leave a sizeable hole, so it will be interesting to see if engineering genius-turned-manager Ian Dowie can fill the void and maintain the stability that his predecessor bought to the club. Having shipped three goals in each of their first two games against Manchester United and West Ham, the Darren Bent inspired win against Bolton will have calmed a few nerves down at the Valley.

Stamford Bridge old boy Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink could feature, while a Chelsea backline which may include Ashley Cole for the first time will need to be at its most vigilant to curtail the threat posed by Bent, scorer of the goal that prevented a clean sweep of nineteen home wins in the league last season. Hermann Hreidarsson is suspended, having been sent off in the game against Bolton.

Then the fun really starts. Next Tuesday sees the return of Champions League football to SW6 for the fourth consecutive year: German side Werder Bremen being the first hurdle to negotiate if the Blues are to return to Athens, scene of the club’s first-ever European triumph thirty-five years ago, for the final next May.

While the almost inevitable meeting with Barcelona was the talking point when the draw was made, last season’s Bundesliga runners-up are a tricky proposition and could well upset those who have their money on Rijkaard and Mourinho progressing to the knockout stages.

Bremen’s coach Thomas Schaaf, now in his eighth year in charge is highly regarded in German football and took the club to a domestic league and cup double two years ago. In the league, their current position mirrors that of the Blues: fifth after three games, having won two and lost one.

Schaaf has built a flexible, intelligent attacking side with numerous goal threats at his disposal. World Cup Golden Boot winner Miroslav Klose and former Porto star Hugo Almeida both have two goals apiece in the league this season, while Egyptian international Mohamed Zidan and Croatian Ivan Klasnić are equally capable of causing problems for even the meanest back four. Having missed out on the World Cup squad, Brazilian new boy Diego has shown signs of the form that previously won him fourteen caps with the national side, starring in the 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen three weeks ago. With German internationals Torsten Frings and Tim Borowski providing the midfield heartbeat, it promises to be an enthralling opener to the European campaign and Chelsea’s toughest test of the season so far.

And once that’s over with, there is the small matter of Liverpool a week on Sunday. William who?