Chelsea will be aiming to come away with an advantage from the first leg of their UEFA Europa League semi-final contest against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Chelsea will embark on a trip to Germany this week, as they gear up to face off against Bundesliga high-flyers Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg of their 2018-19 UEFA Europa League semi-final tie at the Commerzbank-Arena on Thursday night.
It has been quite the season for Eintracht Frankfurt. Having lifted the DFB Pokal last term, the Eagles look set for a fourth-place finish in the Bundesliga and have had a memorable run in the Europa League. After topping Group H that also consisted of Lazio and Marseille with six wins in six games, Eintracht overcame Shakhtar Donetsk (6-3 on aggregate) in the Round of 32.
Adi Hutter’s side narrowly edged out Inter Milan (1-0 on aggregate) in the Round of 16 stage and then dumped out Benfica in the quarter-finals via the away goal rule, after having lost 4-2 in the first leg in Portugal. They come into the game on a bit of a dodgy form, having played out consecutive draws in Bundesliga and winning just two of their last six matches in all competitions.
Chelsea are one of the favourites to lift the Europa League this season, having gone the entire competition unbeaten. The Blues topped an easy Group L dropping just two points in the process and then went on to overcome Swedish giants Malmo (5-1 on aggregate) in the first knockout rounds.
Maurizio Sarri’s side then dismantled Dynamo Kyiv (8-0 in the Round of 16), before defeating Slavia Praha (5-3 on aggregate) in the quarter-finals to book their place in the final-four stages of the Europa League. They too haven’t been on the best of form of late, having won just one of their last four matches (D2 L1), with their most recent fixture ending in a 1-1 draw against Manchester United.
In what will be the first competitive meeting between the two teams, let’s take a closer look at both sets of squads and how they might line up in Thurdsay’s crunch clash.
Team News & Tactics
The Eagles have a number of injury concerns heading into the game as star striker Sebastian Haller remains sidelined with a stomach muscle problem, while Timothy Chandler and Taleb Tawatha are also set to miss out. Marc Stendera and Mijat Gacinovic are back in training though, handing them a boost.
Evan N’Dicka will also be available after serving out his suspension, but key forward Ante Rebic will miss out as he is suspended for accumulation of cards. Hutter is expected to stick with the 3-4-1-2 formation that has served his team so well this season, with Kevin Trapp starting between the sticks on Thursday night.
N’Dicka’s availability means he should return to the three-man backline against Chelsea. He is likely to be partnered by Martin Hinteregger and captain David Abraham, who started both the matches against Benfica in the last round. Danny da Costa and Filip Kostic will line up as the wing-backs on the right and left sides respectively.
Gelson Fernandes and Makoto Hasebe will compete for the defensive midfielder role, with the former likely to get the nod. Sebastian Rode will be provide the legs in the midfield engine room for the home side, while the fit-again Gacinovic should return to the side and slot in as the attacking midfielder.
With no Rebic and Haller, chief goalscoring threat Luka Jovic will be paired up with Goncalo Paciencia in the attack for Eintracht.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Trapp; N’Dicka, Abraham, Hinteregger; da Costa, Rode, Fernandes, Kostic; Gacinovic; Paciencia, Jovic
Chelsea too have a fair share of injury headaches heading into their trip to Commerzbank-Arena. Callum Hudson-Odoi has been ruled out for the season along with defender Antonio Rudiger. Captain and veteran defender Gary Cahill is also out of contention for the match, but Willian could be available after picking up an injury against Manchester United last weekend.
Kepa Arrizabalaga is a guaranteed starter between the sticks for Chelsea, while his compatriot Cesar Azpilicueta should start at right-back. Marcos Alonso, who scored against United, could make way for Emerson Palmieri on the opposite flank however. David Luiz should start at the heart of the defence once again, but will be paired up with Andreas Christensen who will come in for Rudiger.
Jorginho should start as the deepest of the three midfielders for the Blues and look to control the tempo of the proceedings, while N’Golo Kante will provide the box-to-box presence. The third midfield slot could see a change with Ruben Loftus-Cheek set to return in place of Mateo Kovacic who hardly made an impression at the weekend.
Willian’s injury could pave way for Pedro to feature on the right side of the attacking trident for Chelsea, while star attacker Eden Hazard is a certainty to feature on the opposite flank. Olivier Giroud, who is the leading scorer in the Europa League with 10 goals, should replace the ineffective Gonzalo Higuain as the lone striker.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Luiz, Emerson; Kante, Jorginho, Loftus-Cheek; Pedro, Giroud, Hazard
- This is Eintracht Frankfurt’s first European semi-final since 1979-80, when they ultimately won the UEFA Cup after defeating Bayern Munich and Borussia Monchengladbach in the semi-finals and final, respectively.
- This will be Chelsea’s ninth major European semi-final appearance in the Roman Abramovich era (since 2003-04); no club has appeared in more since then (Barcelona also nine).
- Eintracht have lost at home to English opposition just once before in all European competitions – 0-1 vs Nottingham Forest in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1967-68.
- Chelsea have lost just one of their last 10 games against German sides in all European competitions (W5 D4), and have won their last two such games in Germany, both versus Schalke in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
- Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri is unbeaten in his last 13 games in the Europa League (W12 D1). The only manager to go on a longer run without defeat since the competition was rebranded in 2009-10 is Jurgen Klopp – 14 games (W6 D8) with Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool between October 2010 and April 2016.
Player to Watch
The 21-year-old Serbian starlet has taken the European footballing scene by storm this season with his goalscoring prowess. So far in the 2018-19 campaign, Jovic has netted 25 goals in 43 matches across all competitions, while setting up 7 more. Eight of his 25 goals have come in the Europa League, which puts him just behind Olivier Giroud in the goalscoring charts.
Jovic’s rise to prominence with Eintracht has seen him being linked with a summer switch to who’s who of European football, with Chelsea themselves reportedly interested in the Serbian marksman, along with Barcelona. A strong display on Thursday night will further enhance his status and make him an even more appealing prospect for his suitors.
Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Chelsea
Eintracht come into the game having lost two of their last five matches, but the fact that they have lost just once this season in Europe and are undefeated at home will give them plenty of confidence heading into Thursday’s clash. The absence of Ante Rebic and Sebastian Haller might be a problem, however, along with the fact that Luka Jovic hasn’t scored in his last four games.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have won just one of their last four games, but are unbeaten in the Europa League so far this season, winning all but one of their matches. They are one of the strongest teams left in the competition, but without Antonio Rudiger, who has been their most solid defender, the Blues might very well be there for the taking.
It promises to be tightly-contested affair at the Commerzbank-Arena on Thursday night. Eintracht definitely have the wherewithal to hurt this Chelsea side, but the Blues’ quality should help them hold out for a draw at least. A score stalemate is what we at The Hard Tackle are predicting, which would give Chelsea an important away-goal advantage heading into the second leg.