TURIN, March 10 – Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri will be looking to get one over his former employers when the Italian giants face Chelsea in the Champions League here on Tuesday for a place in the quarter-finals.
Juve need to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the second round, first leg at Stamford Bridge two weeks ago and Ranieri would like nothing more than to eliminate the team that sacked him five years ago.
Ranieri enjoyed four years of varying success in west London from 2000 to 2004 before he was fired by billionaire owner Roman Abramovich despite just having led the Blues to their highest league finish in 49 years — second.
Chelsea went from strength to strength under Ranieri’s successor Jose Mourinho but that won’t have come as any solace to the injustice Ranieri will have felt at having been given the push.
One of the reasons for his demise at Stamford Bridge was his constant meddling with his team and formation, something that earned him the nickname ‘the Tinkerman’ in England.
Things haven’t changed in Italy as he rested a host of first choice players for Saturday’s 1-0 derby victory away to Torino and he revealed more changes are possible Tuesday.
"We played three days before (the Torino game) against Lazio and for me it was very important to rotate the players and of course on Tuesday there will be a different team," he said.
"It’s a huge game for us and for Chelsea. We’re the underdogs and they are the favourites but in front of our crowd we will try to do something special. We have a lot of respect for the Chelsea team and we’ll keep trying until the end of the match."
Although Juventus have far greater European pedigree than Chelsea, things have changed in recent years to make the Italians the underdogs.
Chelsea have only two European trophies to their name in the now defunct Cup Winners’ Cup while last season was the first time they reached the Champions League final — which they lost on penalties to Manchester United.
Juventus by contrast have played in the final of Europe’s premier competition seven times, winning twice, and have also lifted the UEFA Cup three times and the Cup Winners’ Cup once.
But Juve are a team under reconstruction following their relegation to Serie B in 2006 for their part in a match-fixing scandal.
That saw them lose many top players and although they have rebounded impressively — they finished third in their first season back in Serie A last year and are currently second in this campaign — they cannot call on the same calibre of stars as Chelsea.
"This is a new Juventus, we’re rebuilding the team. It’s not the same Juve as three or four years ago," said Ranieri.
Facing him is a Chelsea team that is unbeaten under caretaker boss Guus Hiddink, the Russia coach.
"Hiddink is a great manager but sooner or later he has to lose," added Ranieri.
"For him it’s not easy but (Luis Felipe) Scolari and Mourinho played like he plays, it’s normal for him to play 4-3-3 so not a lot has changed."
Chelsea have been more solid under Hiddink and they also have the added bonus of Michael Essien coming back to fitness and Didier Drogba returning to form.
Essien played 35 minutes of Saturday’s FA Cup victory against Coventry and Hiddink is considering him for Tuesday.
"I have some hours before kick-off to think about it. He can play but he still hasn’t got the game rhythm of the other players," said the Dutchman.
Drogba, however, is a certainty to start, "He’s dangerous and I think he’s very good for the team as well. He can still improve and he’s working outside normal training sessions. He likes to do that and it is paying off," said Hiddink.
Ranieri will be without his Mali midfielder Momo Sissoko, who has been ruled out for two months due to a foot injury.