Chelsea will be looking to defend their narrow 1-0 lead from the first leg when they host Slavia Prague in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.
Chelsea hold a slender lead from the first leg in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League. Slavia Prague will be looking to take advantage of not being completely out of the tie come Thursday and mount a second-leg comeback, something that has happened quite a lot in European competitions this season.
Maurizio Sarri has seen his Chelsea side surrender a slender advantage in the top four race, with the latest disappointment a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield, which saw them stand at 66 points from 34 league games, tied on points with Arsenal for fourth place but having played an extra game.
This renders Chelsea with a bleak chance of making it into the top four, which means the only way they can get into the Champions League will likely be by winning the Europa League, a route Manchester United had used during Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge.
Slavia Prague, on the other hand, are on course to win the Czech Republic domestic league, 1.Liga. A 1-0 deficit is not much but the away goal could prove to be crucial. Sarri would also be aware that the competition needs to prioritised and we could be in for an interesting matchup on Thursday.
Team News & Tactics
Marcos Alonso was benched by Maurizio Sarri in the 2-0 defeat to Liverpool over the weekend. But, the Spaniard is likely to start on Thursday. Cesar Azpilicueta should retain his place on the right side of the back four, with Gary Cahill and Andreas Christensen likely to be the centre-back pairing.
Jorginho should be rested and we could see Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic man the midfield alongside N’Golo Kante, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek the other person to drop out of the starting eleven.
Callum Hudson-Odoi started over the weekend and could retain his spot out wide on the left, with Pedro on the right, after having not played against Liverpool. Olivier Giroud has a good record in the Europa League this season and should start upfront against Slavia Prague.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Christensen, Alonso; Kante, Kovacic, Barkley; Pedro, Giroud, Hudson-Odoi
Tomas Soucek missed the first leg of the quarter-final tie against Chelsea due to suspension and should return to the starting eleven on Thursday. Petr Sevcik should make way for the midfielder, with Ibrahim Traore and Alex Kral expected to partner Soucek.
Miroslav Stoch, Lukas Masopust and Peter Olayinka should retain their roles in attack, with Stoch likely to be hoping to do a better job at being the Trequartista this time around.
No changes are expected at the back, with the Ondrej Kolar set to man the line for Slavia Prague, with the same back four that featured in the narrow 1-0 loss to Chelsea in the first leg.
Probable Lineup (4-3-1-2): Kolar; Coufal, Ngadeu-Ngadjui, Deli, Boril; Traore, Soucek, Kral; Stoch; Masopust, Olayinka
1. Chelsea have kept a clean sheet in four of their five UEFA Europa League matches at home this season.
2. Chelsea are undefeated in the UEFA Europa League this season.
3. Slavia Prague have lost just one of their last 12 games in all competitions – the loss coming in a 1-0 defeat at home in the first leg to Chelsea.
4. Slavia Prague are undefeated in their last five away fixtures in all competitions.
5. Olivier Giroud has 9 goals and 2 assists in 10 UEFA Europa League appearances so far this season.
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With the campaign coming to the business end, people will have one eye towards the summer transfer window and preparing for the coming season. While Chelsea may have been slapped with a transfer ban, it will be interesting to see if they are allowed to sign in the summer.
Regardless, Ross Barkley has grown in importance over the course of the season and will be looking to ensure he is in Sarri’s plans for the next season. A few good performances in the coming matches could really seal the deal for the former Everton star.
Chelsea 1-0 Slavia Prague
Chelsea did an above average job in the first leg, obtaining an away goal and a 1-0 advantage coming into the home leg. The Blues are in with a good chance of making it to the semi-finals but must be wary of any potential of a comeback from Slavia Prague on Thursday.
Maurizio Sarri will not risk much but will also use the tie to rest some players. Slavia Prague will be doing all they can but are unlikely to prevent Chelsea from securing a semi-final berth. We are going with a repeat of the first leg scoreline in favour of Chelsea. A slender 1-0 win for the hosts.