Chelsea are keen to rebound from the terrible 3-1 loss to Spurs on Saturday, but before the match against Fulham on Sunday, there is the small matter of a largely inconsequential Europa Leauge training exercise tomorrow against PAOK. Chelsea are already in the knockout round and would guarantee first place in the group with a point, so while we should be expecting mass-rotation, the primary target remains three points and victory. Winning is a habit, as they say.
“I think [there will be many changes tomorrow]. We have ten matches in December.
“We have two targets, to qualify and to win our group. We need one point, but can’t think about that. So the target for tomorrow is to win the match. We can do this.”
Sarri has been doing a good job rotating his squad between midweek (Europa League and League Cup) and weekend (Premier League) commitments, essentially creating an A-Team and a B-Team. Tomorrow’s match then should be an opportunity not only to rest the A-Team and keep them fresh for the fixture madness ahead, but give a chance for the B-Team to impress and perhaps stake a claim on a first-choice position.
One player who will not have that opportunity is Victor Moses, who’s picked a back injury from all that not-playing — is there anything more classic than a “back injury” for a player set to leave the club?
“The last problem is Moses. I spoke with the doctor and he has a back problem this morning, so I think he will not be able to play tomorrow.
Eden Hazard, who added the literal injury to the Spurs insult on Saturday also won’t play, though he was unlikely to play already in the first place. Hopefully he can recover from his twisted ankle for the weekend.
“Then, Hazard — of course it is not a serious injury. He will not be able to play tomorrow but I think he will be able to recover for the Premier League match [against Fulham next Sunday].”
Hazard had already been forced to sit out matches against BATE, Burnley and Derby County last month thanks to a back injury he picked up from a criminal tackle by Manchester United’s Ashley Young, and he’s still looking to get back to top playing condition as well as goals — Hazard has gone five matches without scoring after finding the net eight times in his first ten appearances in all competitions of the season
“I am worried that he had a back injury and now [one on his] ankle, so he has lost a lot of training. So it is normal that he is not at the top form of his physical condition. He has one week and a couple of matches. This week it is useful for him to have training. Of course he cannot play 10 matches in 30 days, so sometimes he has to rest.”
With Hazard rested and Moses “injured”, Chelsea are down to three able-bodied and eligible wingers against PAOK: Pedro, Willian, and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Unfortunately, it sounds like Sarri still isn’t quite ready to trust the latter with the starting role.
“He has to improve a lot. First of all in the defensive phase. He has to work and he is very good in the one on one, but he has to move without the ball. He is potentially a very good player, but he has to work. But this is normal. He is 18.”
“I want to find space for him. It is not easy because we have 28 players. For me it is not easy to put him in the starting XI. Maybe on the bench in the PL there was Moses or Pedro, so it is difficult to not put them on the bench. I will try to find the space for him.”
“He is in the 18 players for the match tomorrow, but I don’t know if he will start.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football.London
Sarri’s obviously looking to win the game after losing in such disastrous fashion on Saturday, but surely giving Hudson-Odoi the start instead of either Willian or Pedro would not be that tremendous of a risk. So that’s a bit disappointing, especially as CHO’s contract situation remains in limbo and he’s understandably reluctant to sign an extension. Giving him the start tomorrow would be a win-win, so hopefully Sarri reconsiders his decision.