The return games of the Europa League group stage are upon us and Chelsea will be looking to officially confirm a spot in the first knockout round with a win away to Belorussian champions BATE Borisov. Chelsea beat BATE 3-1 with a Loftus-Cheek hat-trick two weeks ago at Stamford Bridge.
Sarri went with Kepa Arrizabalaga ahead of Willy Caballero in the first three group games, so there’s little reason to believe that will change, as Chelsea’s No.1 continues to gain valuable experience in Europe. Once qualification is assured, we might see Caballero or perhaps even Bulka get a game or two.
As has been the case in midweek matches, the back four should rotate out for the second-string foursome, with Emerson, Andreas Christensen, Gary Cahill and Davide Zappacosta set to start once again. In fact, the only defender from the first-string who has even traveled is Cesar Azpilicueta, as all three of David Luiz, Marcos Alonso, and Antonio Rudiger have stayed in London.
In midfield, rotation should see Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Mateo Kovačić come back into the starting eleven. Cesc Fabregas would’ve undoubtedly done the same, but he’s been struck down by illness at the last minute and did not make the trip. Jorginho is thus likely to be called upon, unless Sarri goes completely out of the box and tries Kovačić or Ampadu as the regista.
Olivier Giroud is reportedly fit enough to make his first start in two weeks in order to spell suddenly goal-rich Alvaro Morata (who’s stayed behind in London anyway). On the wings, Eden Hazard joined the team and is set to play at least a half, but whether that will be the first or second, remains to be seen. The safer option is probably to give him a start, with one of Pedro or Willian (who’s started 11 in a row) going on the other wing. Pedro played very well on Thursday, so let’s go with him. Victor Moses did not travel, which should give Callum Hudson-Odoi a good chance of minutes off the bench (or perhaps even a start, were we so bold).
Arrizabalaga | Emerson, Christensen, Cahill, Zappacosta | Loftus-Cheek, Jorginho, Kovačić | Hazard, Giroud, Pedro
THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE
The WAGNH community continues to vote in droves for Hudson-Odoi to get his first competitive start of the season; he thus joins Pedro in the starting eleven ahead of Moses (33%), Willian (35%) and Hazard (3%). Arrizabalaga was just about preferred to Caballero (42%), while Cahill was the only one of the back four who faced some competition from Ampadu (40%), who must’ve picked up a few votes in midfield as well. Morata and Fabregas were picked ahead of Giroud (45%) and Jorginho (6%), respectively, but most of the voting was done before news broke that neither will feature.
Arrizabalaga (48%) | Emerson (93%), Christensen (92%), Cahill (72%), Zappacosta (93%) | Kovačić (62%), Fàbregas (90%), Loftus-Cheek (94%) | Hudson-Odoi (76%), Morata (50%), Pedro (47%)
Unsurprisingly, my preferred line up once again advocates a vote of confidence in both our aspiring academy players currently part of the first team (Ampadu and Hudson-Odoi instead of Cahill and Willian or Hazard, respectively). I also would very much like to see Kovačić starting this one and Barkley doing so against Everton — he should be extra-motivated for the game against his old club. Due to Fabregas’s injury, I reluctantly chose Jorginho as the third man in midfield while the rest of the team is identical with the predicted one.
Caballero | Emerson, Christensen, Ampadu, Zappacosta | Loftus-Cheek, Jorginho, Kovačić | Hudson-Odoi, Giroud, Pedro
COME ON, YOU BLUES!