After two matches played, and two narrow yet at times dominant 1-0 victories, against PAOK and Vidi FC, Chelsea sit atop Group L of the Europa League. With another victory, the Blues could just about wrap up the group stage, and have one foot in the knockout rounds already. Standing in Chelsea’s way are yet another new team we’ve never faced before in competitive action, BATE Borisov.
The perennial Belorussian Premier League champions BATE (twelve in a row and counting — they hold an 11-point lead after 24 rounds for the thirteenth) were supposed to be the second best team in the group, but lost to PAOK at home, 4-1, on the last matchday. They need a result from one of their upcoming two games against Chelsea, if not at the Bridge then in two weeks back in Borisov, and that may give them extra motivation to get a result.
Still, it’s Chelsea’s game to lose.
Date / Time: Thursday, October 25th, 2018, 20:00 BST; 3:00pm EDT; 12:30am IST (next day)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Paolo Silvio Mazzoleni — from the Italian Serie A, the rather progressive 44-year-old not only is welcoming towards VAR but is also in favor of referees talking to the media after matches. He’s never refereed a Chelsea match before, but he did take charge of a friendly between Spain and England in 2015, which featured Fabregas, Azpilicueta, Pedro, Morata, Cahill, and Barkley. Spain won 2-0.
Forecast: 13 °C (55 °F) with a 2% chance of rain.
On TV: BT Sport 2 (UK); none (USA); Sony Ten 2 HD (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: BT Sport Live (UK); B/R Live (USA); SONY LIV (India)
Chelsea team news: Eden Hazard is out with a sore back, thanks to an unpunished scissor tackle by Ashley Young (thanks, Mike Dean). Sarri’s only hoping to have him back for the weekend. Ethan Ampadu is also out, still nursing the knee injury he picked up while playing for Wales. Maurizio Sarri has rotated liberally so far in the Europa League so we should expect more of the same. We might even see Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen, but not Callum Hudson-Odoi. Sarri already confirmed that Jorginho will be rested.
Chelsea’s schedule lends itself very well to significant rotation — Premier League games alternating with easier Europa League or League Cup ties — so Sarri should be taking full advantage of this to keep the squad fresh as we into the winter months. Chelsea, who are still unbeaten after the weekend’s last gasp equalizer against Manchester United, will face Burnley away on Sunday before hosting Frank Lampard’s Derby County in midweek.
BATE Borisov team news: This is BATE’s fourth time in the Europa League group stage and their second straight. They failed in Champions League qualifying, a pair of wins over HJK Helsinki and Qarabağ offset by losses in both legs against PSV Eindhoven (2-3 at home followed by 0-3 away). Last season they finished bottom of their Europa League group, garnering just five points from six matches against Crvena Zvezda, Arsenal and Köln.
Alyaksey Baha has been their head coach only since June, but he served the previous seven seasons as assistant. Baha was promoted to replace Oleg Dulub, who was sacked after just 150 days in charge. Dulub, who had been “mired” in poor results (just 1 win in 4 in all competitions for the powerhouse club) was the first, and as it turned out, only sacking in BATE founder and chairman Anatoly Kapsky’s tenure (five coaches total). Kapsky passed away last month at the age of just 52. As director of Borisov Automotive and Tractor Electronics (BATE), a company that manufactures starters and alternators for cars and heavy equipment, Kapsky re-formed the football club in 1996 after it disbanded in the mid-80s. His death was a sad day for not just Belorussian but Eastern European football as well.
Like Chelsea, BATE have only scored two goals so far in the group stage (with a third coming via an own goal against PAOK). Finnish midfielder Jasse Tuominen and defender Evgeni Yablonski scored their goals against Vidi on the first matchday. Their scoring in the league seems to be spread around quite well between a couple strikers and several midfielders, including former Arsenal budding star and Barcelona failure Alexander Hleb, who’s now 37 and very much in the final days of his career.
They tend to play four at the back, but can vary the rest of the formation from a more attacking 4-3-3 (against Vidi) to a more defensive 4-1-4-1 (in their home loss to PAOK).
Previously: This will be Chelsea’s second ever Europa League group stage match at Stamford Bridge. Here’s what happened in the first, just a few weeks ago.