Return of winning habit lifts Grant's spirits
Five weeks ago, at Chelsea's last home Champions League game, you could see Avram Grant, but he was still sitting behind Jose Mourinho.
His presence, as the director of football, was a brooding and slightly mysterious one. Two days later, the covers came off.
The Israeli replaced the Portuguese to step on to centre-stage and now he will finally take his place fully in the spotlight by taking charge of his first Champions League fixture at Stamford Bridge.
That night in September represented Chelsea's – and Mourinho's – low-point of this season, as the Blues drew 1-1 with Rosenborg in front of a paltry 24,000 crowd. A day later Mourinho had gone, to the sound of much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and Grant stepped in.
Not that tonight's game against Schalke 04, who sit third in the group while Chelsea lead, is his first examination with the club against the continent's elite. He pulled off the remarkable feat of guiding a team, supposedly with its morale utterly broken in the wake of Mourinho's departure, to victory in Valencia. Furthermore, he had to deal with Didier Drogba's outburst last week, when the Ivorian forward claimed something at the club was "broken". Now comes his first European test at home, with a sell-out crowd expected.
That result in Spain late last month quickly began to change people's opinions of Grant. Maybe this guy could manage. He said last night: "Any new manager or coach has to show the fans that he can improve something. It's easier to show them that after we've won a few games, but we don't want to stop with this.
"Valencia was one of the first games we won. But the Champions League is different from the league, so it's important that we continue."
Grant's first game in charge was a 2-0 defeat at Manchester United but since then he has overseen a run of five unbeaten games, with wins in the past three. With the club's owner, Roman Abramovich, desiring a more entertaining style of football than the sort he endured with Mourinho, Grant has always been at pains to suggest that is what he is slowly introducing. Wins against Bolton and Middlesbrough have not hit the heights of performance seen lately by Arsenal and Manchester United, but there have been hints of an improvement.
Yet Grant knows that qualification from this Champions League group is paramount, and he said: "First we want to win tonight. We lost two points against Rosenborg. It's important we win this game. I like to win, but the way we win is also important. I know that we cannot play all the games, all the 90 minutes, the best but this is our goal. To play also good football and to win games.
"We're improving. The last month – Valencia, Hull [4-0 in the Carling Cup] and the two Premiership away games – were good results. But we want to play even better than that."
Petr Cech saw Drogba score against Middlesbrough on Saturday, the striker's first outing since his outburst and while the diplomatic Czech goalkeeper would never say similar things, he feels Drogba has said his piece without compromising the team.
"Didier opened his heart in his interview, but for us, as players, and for the club, the main thing is he's always been brilliant on the pitch."
Grant is still without the injured John Terry and Ashley Cole. He could name an unchanged side from the one that beat Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Chelsea (probable, 4-3-3): Cech; Belletti, Alex, Carvalho, Ferreira; Mikel, Lampard, Essien; J Cole, Drogba, Malouda Schalke 04 (probable, 4-4-2): Neuer; Westermann, Bordon, Rodriguez, Rafinha; Ernst, Grossmuller, Kristajic, Asamoah; Kuranyi, Lovenkrands.
Referee: P Frojfeldt (Sweden).
Results: Chelsea 1 Rosenborg 1; Schalke 04 0 Valencia 1; Rosenborg 0 Schalke 04 2; Valencia 1 Chelsea 2.
Tonight: Chelsea v Schalke 04; Rosenborg v Valencia. 6 November: Schalke 04 v Chelsea; Valencia v Rosenborg. 28 November: Rosenborg v Chelsea; Valencia v Schalke 04. 11 December: Chelsea v Valencia; Schalke 04 v Rosenborg.