Chelsea will look to confirm their top spot in Group L of the UEFA Europa League as they host a PAOK side that are still in with a chance to go through.
Maurizio Sarri’s statements have finally come true. The manager was himself surprised by the start Chelsea had under him and had always maintained that there is still a lot of room for improvement before the Blues become the end product.
The rude awakening though, came in the form of a 3-1 humbling at the hands of local rivals Tottenham, something that would have surely irked the players and the fans alike. As far as Europa League is concerned, Chelsea are well positioned to not just qualify for the Round of 32, but top the group.
PAOK, on the other hand, are still in with a chance to qualify for the knockout phase, with the team level on points with BATE Borisov and 3 behind second-placed Vidi FC. Anything less than a win though, could potentially end their hopes of qualifying, especially if BATE fail to defeat Vidi FC in the other matchup.
Chelsea edged PAOK when playing the team on away soil and PAOK would be hoping to do a reverse of the result. We now take a closer look at the two squads.
Team News & Tactics
Chelsea main man Eden Hazard will miss the tie through injury. While the issue is not that serious, Maurizio Sarri is unlikely to risk the Belgian, especially with just 1 point needed from the two games to ensure top spot in Group L of the Europa League.
The only other player that is unavailable is Victor Moses, who is suffering from a back injury. Sarri should go with the back four he has chosen to deploy in his last two Europa League games, with Davide Zappacosta, Gary Cahill, Andreas Christensen and Emerson Palmieri all set to start.
In midfield, Ross Barkley should be handed a start, with Cesc Fabregas likely to assume Jorginho’s role. The last spot in midfield should be filled by Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has been in inspired form in the Europa League.
Up ahead, Olivier Giroud should start after he attempted to ignite a mini-comeback scoring as a substitute against Tottenham. To accompany him, Willian and Pedro should both feature in the starting eleven, with Sarri likely to go for a win after the Tottenham defeat.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Kepa; Zappacosta, Cahill, Christensen, Emerson; Loftus-Cheek, Fabregas, Barkley; Pedro, Giroud, Willian
There should not be many changes to the lineup that featured against Chelsea last time out in the Europa League. Alin Tosca and Fernando Valera will hold onto their places. But, the right flank should be guarded by Leo Matos while Jose Crespo will likely partner Varela at the heart of the defence.
Mauricio and Pontus Wernbloom should continue as the designated partnership in the holding midfield area. Dimitrios Pelkas and Omar El Kaddouri will likely retain their spots, albeit with a slight shift. Pelkas is likely to start in the number 10 role, with Aleksandar Prijovic leading the PAOK attack.
Dimitris Limnios should complete the starting eleven.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Paschalakis; Matos, Varela, Crespo, Tosca; Wernbloom, Mauricio; Limnios, Pelkas, El Kaddouri; Prijovic
1. Chelsea have failed get on the scoresheet just twice this season in all competitions.
2. Despite their aforementioned record, their strikers have been disappointing, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud recording just 6 goals between them this season.
3. Chelsea have never lost a Europa League game at Stamford Bridge (W8 D2).
4. Chelsea can emulate Tottenham (2013) and become only the second English club win all of their first five group stage matches in the Europa League.
5. Chelsea have just 4 different goalscorers in the Europa League so far this season, scoring 6 in total.
Player to Watch
With teams starting to find out the way to neutralise Chelsea, Cesc Fabregas could be the solution. Adding Fabregas alongside Jorginho could equip Chelsea with alternatives during open play. Maurizio Sarri has already admitted that Fabregas can fill Jorginho’s role.
But, playing both could be a prospect worth considering for Sarri and Chelsea. Fabregas though, will have to continue proving to be the able substitute whenever given chances.
Chelsea 0-0 PAOK
Chelsea struggled to get a footing against Tottenham during the weekend, with Maurizio Sarri perhaps fearing that other teams might have noticed the weakness of his current system – preventing Jorginho from being comfortable on the ball.
PAOK will be playing for a win and should create problems for Chelsea. We could be seeing a trepid draw being played out by the two teams at Stamford Bridge.