• Danes hope winter break will not leave them exposed
• Build-up to knockout round tie in Copenhagen at fever pitch
FC Copenhagen wrapped up their Champions League preparations with a 5-0 friendly win over Norwegian side Rosenborg ahead of the visit from Chelsea. However, questions remain over the form of the Danish champions, who have not played a competitive game since 7 December when they beat Panathinaikos to become the first Danish team to qualify for the knockout stages of Europe's leading club competition.
That result came three days after Copenhagen's last game in the Danish Superliga – which they lead by 19 points after 19 games – before the three-month winter break. In the two previous seasons, the adjustment to European football after the break has proved difficult for the Danes, who got knocked out of the Europa League by Manchester City and Marseille respectively. Copenhagen's six friendlies during the winter have all been against Scandinavian clubs.
"[Chelsea] play at a high tempo every fourth day and that is a deciding factor," the Copenhagen manager, Stale Solbakken, said. "We have known this since the draw and had hoped for a couple of better opponents but we couldn't get that. The players will be slightly worried about the pace but that will always be the case for Scandinavian teams this time of year. But if we come out of the first game all right, then we have got three weeks until the next, when we will be much further ahead and everything can happen – there we will also be able to beat Chelsea."
The central defender Solvi Ottesen is out with a back injury but otherwise Solbakken has a full squad. He is expected to start the game with the same 4-4-2 formation he played against Rosenborg, with the Brazilian striker César Santin partnering the Senegalese international Dame N'Doye up front and the former Chelsea winger Jesper Gronkjaer positioned on the left. The Costa Rican midfielder Cristian Bolaños impressed with two goals against Rosenborg and Copenhagen will hope his pace down the right side of the Danish attack can match up against Ashley Cole.
Copenhagen qualified second in their group behind Barcelona after wins away at Panathinaikos and at home against Rubin Kazan. They impressed in their two games against the Spanish champions, matching them for pace and possession for much of the second half at Camp Nou and drawing 1-1 at home.
That result was hailed as one of the greatest by a Danish team in international club competition and the build-up to the Chelsea game has reached fever pitch. Although a physically strong Chelsea side might be far from an ideal opponent from the manager's perspective, the match has some intriguing subplots. At the time of the draw rumours were rife of a Copenhagen takeover by Roman Abramovich's son Arkady, and much has been made of Gronkjaer facing the club who he propelled into the Champions League with his goal against Liverpool on the final day of the 2002-03 Premier League season.
Brian Laudrup also played for both clubs and he thinks that the Danes will exploit Chelsea's weaknesses. "Chelsea are dangerous at crosses and set pieces where they have a lot of strength but otherwise they play too slow and too individually," Laudrup told the newspaper Ekstra Bladet. "If Chelsea continue this way then FC Copenhagen have a chance."