Now playing Champions League football for the sixth consecutive season, Branislav Ivanovic is certainly no stranger to Europe’s major club competition, and speaking ahead of tomorrow’s game against Steaua Bucharest, the Serbian underlined the importance of finishing top of Group E.
Jose Mourinho’s side have already secured their place in the knockout stages of the tournament, but a victory against the Romanian outfit at Stamford Bridge, regardless of results elsewhere, will ensure we progress as group winners.
‘It’s a very important game, especially because we’ve had some defeats in the competition, and we want to finish top of the group,’ said Ivanovic.
‘We know how important this game is for us in order to finish top of the group, that’s our aim and we need to stay focused, give 100 per cent and hopefully we will win the game.’
Our opponents are yet to win a match in this season’s competition, although they have drawn with Schalke twice, but with nothing to play for, they could potentially pose a greater threat, as Ivanovic explained.
‘We remember the game there [a 4-0 win], it was very difficult for us, it came at a difficult moment, but we were fully concentrated on the game and that’s why the result came for us,’ he said.
‘We have to be focused for this game as well, especially because Steaua have nothing to lose.
‘They are a good team, in the last year we’ve played them three times and they have some great players, so we have to be careful. They play really offensive, their full backs attack and they are very positive.’
Ivanovic has enjoyed a sustained run in the side this campaign, with his importance underlined by the fact he has started every Premier League and Champions League game to date.
The Blues, as a defensive unit, however, have come in for criticism over the past week having conceded three goals in our games at Sunderland and Stoke City, and while prior to those games we held the second-best defensive record in the Premier League, Ivanovic spoke of the importance of reverting back to our customary ways.
‘It’s always important to not concede and keeping clean sheets, game by game, gives confidence to the defenders and stability to the team,’ said the Serbian. ‘As a defensive line we will do everything to not concede a goal.
‘It’s very important to communicate on the pitch during the game, these last two games were very open and in that situation you can’t always control the result. As a defender you are always worried when you concede a goal but it’s important for us, as a team, to defend in a good way.
‘We conceded a couple from set pieces which is unusual for us, but we know how strong we are in that area and we just need to get back to normal and keep doing the right things.’
Tomorrow’s game provides the perfect opportunity to eradicate the disappointment of defeat at Stoke from the system, and having fallen at the first hurdle in last season’s Champions League, Ivanovic is confident we can bring the current group stage to a conclusion in the perfect manner.
‘From our point of view it was a difficult and tough group from the beginning,’ the right-back said.
‘We played Basel and Steaua last year in the Europa League so we knew they were good teams. Schalke are always a tough, difficult opponent, so we weren’t relaxed. We have a chance to finish top tomorrow and we must take it.’