LONDON — The biggest city in Turkey and sitting in both Europe and Asia, Istanbul is one of world soccer’s greatest meccas. Passionate fans, massive clubs and fascinating cultures all clash on the banks of the Bosphorus.
On Wednesday Chelsea travel to the Al Sami Yen Stadium to face Turkish giants Galatasaray in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League as a hostile atmosphere awaits. Over 50,000 fanatical supporters will pack the recently constructed stadium that sits just outside the heart of Istanbul, with the Blues in for a real tough time.
Manager Jose Mourinho knows that more than most, as last season he took Real Madrid to Istanbul and came home with nothing. Real managed to turn the tie around at home in the second leg, but a trip to face Galatasaray isn’t something the ‘Special One’ is relishing.
“Last season my team [Real Madrid] was a team ready to win the Champions League and we were in trouble against them,” Mourinho said. “We won in Madrid but lost in Istanbul and we were in trouble. The crowd is difficult too. The 3,000 Everton fans who were at Chelsea on Saturday… they have 60,000 like this. The atmosphere is really strong, we have a difficult match to play.”
(MORE:Mourinho lauds Chelsea’s defensive solidity, as title charge will come from the back)
Aside from the intense atmosphere, Mourinho also pointed out the extremely talented squad Galatasaray manger Robeerto Mancini has at his disposal.
“They have a good team, a very experienced team,” Mourinho said. “All of their players have had a long-run in the high level of the Champions League and they have got wins. They have big players, Wesley Sneijeder, Dider Drogba and after that they have very experienced players like Emmanule Eboue and Felipe Melo, they are people that have played at some of the best clubs in the world. The Turkish guys are the best players they have, Yilmaz, Altintop, Inan.”
With Mourinho dishing out plenty of respect to Chelsea’s Turkish opponents, there is one man he will be excited yet focused to face once again. Galatasaray striker Didier Drogba was Mourinho’s main man during his first spell in charge at Chelsea, with the Ivorian striker spearheading many of the Blues’ title charges and left the West London club in 2012 after scoring the winning penalty kick in the UEFA Champions League final.
(MORE: Report – Drogba linked with MLS move, as two teams battle for his signature)
There is a banner hanging at one end of Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium which reads, “Drogba, Chelsea legend.” Mourinho doesn’t argue with that, but insists he and his players must be professional when facing one of Chelsea’s greatest ever strikers.
“I played against him already. When I was at Inter we played Chelsea and when I was at Real last season we played against Galatasaray,” Mourinho said. “It’s a strange feeling, we know him well. During the game from us there will no friends, before the game we will be big friends and we have big respect for a real legend of this club and after the game the same. But during the game, we have a job to do.”
Many believe Mourinho’s main reason for heading back to Stamford Bridge is to build a team capable of winning the Champions League year after year, as the Portuguese boss aims to lift the one trophy which alluded him during his first spell in charge of the Blues. Mourinho has won the UCL with FC Porto and Inter Milan, but now with Chelsea he’s aiming to clinch Europe’s elite title for a third time.
But before dreaming about titles, his side must negotiate this tricky test against a side that’s already beaten Juventus at home this season in the UCL. Mourinho believes this last 16 matchup will go right to the wire.
“I think this is a tie that will go to the end. It will go right to the end.”