Villas-Boas makes step up to Champions League

After winning the Europa League with Porto last season, Andre
Villas-Boas makes the step up to the continent’s biggest stage when
his new team Chelsea launches its Champions League campaign against
Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday.

In taking the job at Stamford Bridge this summer, Villas-Boas
acknowledged that bringing European success to Chelsea was high up
on billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich’s wishlist.

The closest Chelsea has come to lifting the Champions League for
the first time was in 2008, when the team lost to Manchester United
on penalties in the final in Moscow, but the English club is again
likely to be among the challengers to Barcelona’s title this
season.

”If you take the European trophy, of course it is a dream to
everybody but it’s the most difficult trophy to win when you see
the level of the other European teams as they are, and it’s going
to be a massive challenge again,” said Villas-Boas, who is the
youngest coach to win a European trophy. ”We just have to go step
by step on it … we have to focus on getting the first three
points before going to Valencia.”

Valencia should be Chelsea’s biggest rival in Group E and the
Spanish team, which has opened up its La Liga campaign two straight
wins, visits Belgian team Genk in the other pool match.

Spain striker Roberto Soldado has been the key to Valencia’s
early success this season, having scored four goals so far.

”I don’t know where my ceiling is and I don’t want to know; the
only thing I want is to keep growing as a player,” Soldado
said.

While one Spanish striker is in stellar form, the same can’t be
said of another in Chelsea’s squad – Fernando Torres.

Signed in January for a club-record 50 million pounds (then $81
million), Torres has failed to regain the form that made him such a
success in the Premier League with Liverpool two or three years
ago.

He was dropped by Villas-Boas for Saturday’s 2-1 victory at
Sunderland, which maintained Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the
Premier League, with Daniel Sturridge beginning in his place and
scoring.

With Didier Drogba unlikely to be fit for the Leverkusen match,
Sturridge could again start up front with Nicolas Anelka and former
Valencia winger Juan Mata in a three-pronged strikeforce.

”The competition for places is very tough in the squad and the
manager has shown huge faith in me to put me in the team,” said
Sturridge, an England Under-21 player.

Villas-Boas will be taking charge of a team for the first time
in a Champions League fixture, with Chelsea now rightly regarded as
a giant in Europe after making at least the semifinals in six of
the last eight seasons.

Leverkusen, Champions League runner-up in 2002, has won three of
its opening five matches in the Bundesliga and has former Chelsea
midfielder Michael Ballack in its ranks.

”Leverkusen have this strong emotional impact of being present
in the Champions League final and always wanting to perform well,”
Villas-Boas said.

”They lost (Arturo) Vidal, of course, to Juventus but have
again good quality players.”

Genk has qualified for the group stage of the Champions League
for the second time, and is in midtable in the Belgian league after
winning two of its first six games.