Chelsea are unbeaten on the season and a perfect 3-for-3 in the Europa League group stage — 16 in a row without a loss since tasting defeat in the Community Shield curtain-raiser, the only unbeaten team (in all competitions) left in Europe’s top five leagues — and will be looking to keep both of those streaks alive Thursday night in Belarus.
Two weeks ago, Chelsea beat BATE, 3-1, courtesy of Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s awesome hat-trick. He’s unlikely to repeat that tonight, though hopefully not for a lack of trying, or worse, playing time.
A win would guarantee advancement to the first knockout round of the competition with two games to spare. A draw is probably okay as well. But we might as well just keep winning.
Date / Time: Thursday, November 8, 2018, 17:55 GMT; 12:55pm EST; 11:25pm IST
Venue: Borisov Arena, Borisov, Belarus
Referee: Nikola Dabanović — this will be just the fourth proper Europa League match of the 36-year-old Montenegrin official’s young career.
Forecast: As Napoleon would tell you, cold and then colder, with temperatures dropping towards freezing.
On TV: BT Sport 2 (UK); UniMás (USA); Sony TEN 2 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: BT Sport Live (UK); Univision NOW; B/R Live (USA); Sony LIV (India)
BATE Borisov team news: Since losing to Chelsea, BATE confirmed their status as Champions of Belarus for the 13th season in a row, winning the 16-team top flight with three games to spare this past weekend. But the team celebrated “modestly” as all their attentions are now focused on Europe and an unlikely result here as well as qualification for the next round. As things stand, PAOK, BATE, and Vidi are all on three points after three matches played, and that second spot in Group L is wide open.
While they lost at Stamford Bridge, they gained confidence in getting on the scoresheet for a consolation goal in the final 10 minutes. Combined with their domestic success, they will be looking to emulate Red Star’s famous 2-0 win over Liverpool on Tuesday.
“Yes [we were encouraged and] not only [by] the ending. You need to quietly come to the fact that you can play — just because you are the same player, the same professional, only from another country [...] We must get out of the cocoon. I am sure that we have no less talented players [here] than there. But for a number of different reasons, it is not possible to show their best side every week.
“You have seen the average attendance of the last round of the championship of Belarus. What would it be if it were not for six thousand at the Borisov Arena. The ending at Stamford Bridge can be also encouraged by the fact that only one legionary was playing — Filipovich. Ten Belarusians who were born in the country, trained on asphalt and synthetics, resisted Chelsea, and weren’t slaughtered. This is the most important thing. I am convinced that we will sometime play with them on equal terms.”
-Alexei Baga, head coach source: FC BATE via Google Translate
It’s certainly a large jump from not being slaughtered to playing on equal terms, but you never know when that fire will be discovered and lit.
Chelsea team news: The bare minimum of players made the trip — 11 starters, 7 bench players, and a third goalkeeper for a total of 19 — with three-quarters of the usual starting defense staying at Cobham to rest. Marcos Alonso, David Luiz, and Antonio Rüdiger were also joined by Álvaro Morata, who’s played a ton recently, and Cesc Fàbregas, who came down with a fever yesterday. Fàbregas was all set to start; now in his stead N’Golo Kanté had to travel and Jorginho is likely to start once again — two players who could also use some rest. Drinkwater, Piazon, and Rob Green remain ineligible.
Eden Hazard traveled and is set to play at least 45 minutes as part of his active recovery from the back injury suffered in Ashley Young’s uncalled scissor tackle — it will be appearance number 313, giving him one more than Gianfranco Zola — while Olivier Giroud is set to return from his leg problem. Perhaps he will be inspired by Morata’s sudden goal bonanza, and finally get on the scoresheet himself, too.
Previously: Loftus-Cheek hat-trick.