Chelsea will look to start their UEFA Europa League campaign off on a positive note as they travel to Greece to take on PAOK in a Group L encounter.
PAOK failed to clear the Benfica hurdle in the UEFA Champions League Playoffs and find themselves playing the UEFA Europa League. The Greek heavyweights have started their domestic season well, with three wins to start their league campaign on a positive note.
Chelsea endured a tough time in the Premier League in the 2017-18 season and that sees the Blues play Europa League group stage for the first time. Maurizio Sarri has overseen a perfect start to the domestic season, with five wins out of five. But, the advent of regular midweek games will be the real test for Sarri, Chelsea and the depth.
The two sides have never met each other in any competition. Ahead of their meeting on Thursday, we take a closer look at the two squads.
Team News & Tactics
Razvan Lucescu likes deploying his men in a 4-2-3-1 formation and the same should be the case on Thursday. The defence consists of known names. Fernando Varela and Jose Crespo should be the centre-back pairing for PAOK, with former Wolfsburg star Vieirinha on the left.
Leo Matos is suspended after being sent off against SL Benfica in the UEFA Champions League playoffs and is likely to be replaced with Stelios Kietsiou. Pontus Wernbloom and Mauricio should slot in as the quintessential midfield pairing at the base of the 4-2-3-1.
Omar El Kaddouri should be on the left with Dimitrios Limnios on the right. Dimitris Pelkas should be deployed in the number 10 role, with former Arsenal striker Chuba Akpom set to lead the PAOK attack against Chelsea.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Paschalakis; Kitsiou, Varela, Crespo, Vieirinha; Wernbloom, Mauricio; Limnios, Pelkas, El Kaddouri; Akpom
Maurizio Sarri will use the UEFA Europa League to rest key players and hand game time to youngsters and fringe players, as was the case during his reign at Napoli. Among those that are confirmed to be unavailable for the tie are Emerson Palmieri, Cesc Fabregas, Mateo Kovacic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, which means the midfield could see fresh faces being deployed.
The changes will start from the back, with Willy Caballero set to deputise in goal, while the centre-back pairing of Andreas Christensen and Gary Cahill will protect the goal. Davide Zappacosta should start on the right, but the injury to Emerson Palmieri is likely to see Marcos Alonso being retained in the starting eleven.
Ethan Ampadu is expected be one of the three midfielders to come in, with Ross Barkley and Danny Drinkwater likely to be handed a start in midfield. Victor Moses and Willian should come in on the wings and Alvaro Morata is likely return to the starting lineup.
The Spaniard will hope to impress in a bid to regain his starting spot over Olivier Giroud as the leader of the Chelsea attack.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Caballero; Zappacosta, Christensen, Cahill, Alonso; Barkley, Drinkwater, Ampadu; Moses, Morata, Willian
Player to Watch
Ampadu shined for Wales during the international break and with adulation, skepticism has also arrived over his future at Chelsea, with the club notorious for a lack of pathway into the first-team setup for youngsters.
Maurizio Sarri though, might be the man to break the myth at Stamford Bridge. If that is the case, Ethan Ampadu will have to be the torchbearer. The youngster will likely start in midfield on Thursday and another cultured performance in the middle of the park will only bolster his chance of becoming a permanent figure in the matchday squads for Chelsea week-in week-out.
PAOK 2-3 Chelsea
With a second string side likely to be named by Maurizio Sarri, PAOK might have an opportunity to nick a point or three against Chelsea. But, the quality and reputation of the second string Chelsea starting lineup is also likely to be greater than what PAOK will put out on the field.
Expect an interesting match and perhaps, Maurizio Sarri to ring in the changes towards the hour mark. The changes should do the trick for Chelsea. We are going with a narrow win for Chelsea. But, it would not be a surprise if PAOK manage to get something off Chelsea.