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.