Chelsea will be hoping to grab an advantage in their UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg fixture when they meet Slavia Praha at Eden Arena.
The UEFA Europa League resumes this week with the Last Eight stage, as the remaining teams start to harbour hopes of winning the competition. Chelsea, who perhaps have the easiest draw in the quarter-finals, will be aiming to take a significant step towards reaching the penultimate phase when they take on Slavia Praha at Eden Arena on Thursday.
Slavia Praha are the giant killers of this year’s UEFA Europa League, having finished ahead of Bordeaux in the group stage before getting past Genk and, more surprisingly, Sevilla in the two knockout stages of the competition thus far.
In domestic football, the Red and Whites are inching closer towards lifting the league title, while also having reached the quarter-finals of the Czech Cup. Chelsea, on the other hand, have been extremely inconsistent in domestic football this season, although their 2-0 win over West Ham United on Monday elevated them to third on the Premier League table.
The UEFA Europa League though, remains their only realistic chance of winning silverware this season, and their performances suggest Chelsea will fancy their chances of winning the competition for the second time this decade. The Blues cruised through the group stage before comfortably beating both Malmo and Dynamo Kyiv in the two knockout rounds so far.
Slavia Praha and Chelsea will lock horns in the UEFA Europa League for the very first time on Thursday and ahead of this meeting, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Jindrich Trpisovsky does not have many concerns hampering his preparations for the visit of Chelsea. On Thursday, midfield stalwart Tomas Soucek will be the major absentee for Slavia Praha due to a one-game ban, accrued due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
His place in the side should be taken by Josef Husbauer, who will play as the deepest midfielder for the hosts against Chelsea. Apart from Soucek, Slavia Praha will also be missing out on the services of Jakub Hromada (ankle) and Stanislav Tecl (knee), who has seen his season end prematurely.
Alongside Husbauer, the onus will be on January signing Alex Kral, who will be tasked with keeping things tight and cutting off the supply line in the final third. At the back, Simon Deli, Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui and Ondrej Kudela will form a three-pronged unit that will have its task cut out on the night.
Up ahead in attack, the onus will be on top scorers Miroslav Stoch and Milan Skoda to test the Chelsea defence, which has previously shown that it can be exploited.
Probable Lineup (3-5-1-1): Kolar; Kudela, Ngadeu-Ngadjui, Deli; Coufal, Traore, Husbauer, Kral, Boril; Stoch; Skoda
Maurizio Sarri does not have any concern whatsoever bothering him ahead of the trip to Prague to take on Slavia Praha. The latest player to become available for Chelsea ahead of their Europa League assignment is Marcos Alonso.
The Spaniard should return to the starting lineup straightaway, replacing Emerson Palmieri as the Chelsea left-back. There should be a couple more changes in defence, with Davide Zappacosta allowing captain Cesar Azpilicueta a rest, while Andreas Christensen is likely to come into the side in place of David Luiz.
One player who has found game time hard to come by lately is Mateo Kovacic, owing to Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s advent in recent weeks. But, with the game against Slavia Praha coming so close to the one versus West Ham United, Loftus-Cheek is unlikely to start. N’Golo Kante might be rested as well, with Kovacic and Ross Barkley replacing the duo.
Up ahead in attack, Sarri could name a completely new look trifecta, having hinted that Eden Hazard could be due a rest. Willian ought to take Hazard’s place, while Pedro will replace Callum Hudson-Odoi. Finally, Olivier Giroud will lead the line for Chelsea, replacing Gonzalo Higuain.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Kepa; Zappacosta, Christensen, Rudiger, Alonso; Kovacic, Jorginho, Barkley; Pedro, Giroud, Willian
- This will be the first ever competitive meeting between Slavia Praha and Chelsea. The Czech side have won just one of their previous nine games against English sides in Europe (D2 L6) – beating Leeds United 2-1 in March 2000 in the UEFA Cup.
- This is Chelsea’s 10th European quarter-final since 2003-04. The Blues have progressed from nine of those ties, only being eliminated by Manchester United in the Champions League in 2010-11.
- Chelsea have won more games (nine) and have a better goal difference (+21) than any other side in the UEFA Europa League this season.
- Chelsea are unbeaten in six matches against Czech clubs and have yet to concede on three visits to Prague, winning each of their last two matches in the Czech capital 1-0 against Sparta Praha – in the 2003-04 UEFA Champions League group stage and the 2012-13 UEFA Europa League round of 32.
- Olivier Giroud is the top scorer in this season’s Europa League with nine goals. The last player to surpass this figure in a single UEFA Europa League season was Aritz Aduriz, who netted 10 goals for Athletic Club in 2015-16.
Player to Watch
He may not exactly be Chelsea’s first-choice striker. But, in Europe this season, Olivier Giroud is a major reason why the Blues are considered to be one of the favourites to win the UEFA Europa League. With 9 goals under his belt already, the Frenchman looks primed to end up as the competition’s top scorer this term.
But, while adding to his tally will be on the agenda for Giroud, a domineering performance could also help him displace Gonzalo Higuain, who has not been in among the goals, for the regular striker’s role. An intriguing fixture beckons for Giroud, who will be eager to continue impressing in Europe.
Slavia Praha 1-3 Chelsea
Slavia Praha have been one of the surprise packages in the UEFA Europa League this season. But, their journey in the competition is likely to come to an end over the course of the next week or so. Chelsea are one of the strongest sides left in the competition, if not the strongest outright.
The Blues have especially been impressive on the road in this year’s edition, and with a few players having a point or two to prove, they could run riot. The Hard Tackle predicts a comfortable win for Maurizio Sarri’s men, although Slavia Praha should have some good fortune going their way as well.