The wait is over and the glorious European nights are finally back! Sort of.
Despite it being “only” the Europa League, I’m actually glad that it’s getting under way as it’ll hopefully give opportunities to some of the promising youngsters who impressed during preseason. Plus, since we’re “stuck” with this competition for this season, we might as well give it our best shot and maybe even win it, like in 2013.
On paper and given the team’s depth, the group stage should be a piece of cake. Today’s match will likely be the hardest of the six games, and that opinion is shared by the manager as well.
Maurizio Sarri expected to rotate about 4-5 players, so for the first time all season, there’s a fair bit of guesswork in involved in the predictions.
It’s unclear if he’s counted as one of the lineup changes, but Willy Caballero will surely start his first match of the season, with Arrizabalaga taking over in the knockout rounds.
Regarding the back four, I’d expect Sarri to go with Alonso, Cahill, Christensen and Zappacosta, with the two more senior centre backs likely to start ahead of Ampadu. Zappacosta actually played decently well during preseason and showed off some of his crossing that he was supposed to bring to the table last season. Zappacosta could also play on the left, with usual right back (Captain?) Azpilicueta keeping his spot to spell Alonso for a minute.
The midfield could be an area which may see fewer changes than initially expected, with Sarri casting a bit of doubt over Loftus-Cheek’s readiness and Fàbregas’ match fitness still in doubt at this point. We know that Kanté is indefatigable and Jorginho is needed to make the system truly tick, so Barkley might be the only change in restoring the preferred early season trio.
In attack, most are desperate to see Callum Hudson-Odoi be given his European debut, but Sarri cast an even bigger doubt over him than Loftus-Cheek. With Morata already confirmed to start and Pedro traveling and Hazard not (Sarri planned to rest one of those two), the only other opening in the front line should go to Willian.
That’s a total of six changes, seven if we count the goalkeeper, so even this may be a bit too ambitious. Don’t be surprised to see Azpilicueta and/or Rüdiger getting starts, too.
Caballero | Alonso, Cahill, Christensen, Zappacosta | Barkley, Jorginho, Kanté | Willian, Morata, Pedro
THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE
The WAGNH community’s preferred line-up is a mixed bag across the board, with plenty of uncertainty at almost every position, plus one impossibility due to late team news: Emerson handily won the left back spot, but he turns out to have not traveled due to illness. The votes were most split in midfield, where no one other than Barkley got over 60% and Kanté (45%), Jorginho (37%), and Fàbregas (32%) all got under 50%.
Caballero (43%) | Emerson (80%), Cahill (60%), Christensen (94%), Zappacosta (77%) | Barkley (90%), Ampadu (60%), Loftus-Cheek (60%) | Hudson-Odoi (77%), Morata (90%), Willian (60%)
It’s pretty simple: I want to see Ampadu and Hudson-Odoi given the chance to prove themselves. This is going to be a very long season and the earlier the two can do that (outside of preseason), the better. I also believe Fabregas is a necessity as he’s the only one in the team able to play the ‘regista’ role that Jorginho normally takes up.
Caballero | Alonso, Ampadu, Christensen, Zappacosta | Loftus-Cheek, Fabregas, Barkley | Hudson-Odoi, Morata, Willian
COME ON, YOU BLUES!