After winning consecutive games for the first time in seemingly forever, Chelsea take on Dynamo Kyiv in the first leg of the Europa League Round of 16 knockout tie.
Good news first: Maurizio Sarri reports no injuries and no illnesses. Bad news second: there are some tired legs out there.
“We are lucky we have no injuries. We have some players very tired because the week was hard. We had 130 minutes in the final, it was really very hard. We need to concede the situation and rest some players.”
Fortunately, Chelsea have plenty of squad depth, so we shouldn't really need to run players into the ground, such as when starting Eden Hazard against 19th place Fulham, 72 hours after he barely scraped by for 60 minutes against Spurs — and especially when a certain Callum Hudson-Odoi is threatening to leave the club over a lack of playing time.
Unfortunately, Hudson-Odoi may still not be ready to start, at least in Sarri’s eyes, and those are the ones that count at the moment.
“Callum is always in my mind, I don’t know if tomorrow he will be on the pitch. I think you have to put less pressure on the young English player as they have to improve. I have not seen a player of 18 at the top, Callum the same as others needs to improve. It is very important that, and then he will be able to be at the top when he is 22 or 23. You put too much pressure on the English young players.”
Pressure or no pressure, Chelsea's fixture list demands rotation. Relying on the same 14-15 players is just not feasible, especially across multiple competitions as an English team.
That of course hasn't stopped any manager before complaining about the impossible schedule and Sarri's no different in that respect. That's not to say they are incorrect, but proper or better rotation could help mitigate the impact.
“I think in this moment we played six or seven more matches than other European teams. It means two months of matches during the week, without training. For an English team it is very difficult to be competitive in March, April. Yesterday we saw Real Madrid against Ajax. Ajax didn’t play in the last match in Dutch, Real came from two matches against Barca, a big difference. The Premier League can do more.
“In Italy you can ask to play on Monday, one day more to rest is important. When we will play in Premier League 62 or 63 hours after Kyiv, I think it is too early.”
Either way, Chelsea have to win, not just this match but the whole competition. Considering Chelsea’s quality and the fact that winning the Europa League guarantees a spot in the Champions League next season, it has to be of equal importance to finishing top four in the league. Like the 10 remaining Premier League fixtures, basically every match in Euroe is a must-win as well.
“I think my team is good enough to win at home and away. The two matches will be very difficult. They are a physical team, a young team. Wingers fast so we need two very good performances. Our target is to play the same football at home and away.
“I think we can gain the spot in the Champions League from the Premier League but Europa League is very important, the second [biggest prize] in Europe, it is an important target.”
-Maurizio Sarri; Source: Football.London
Neither Sarri nor Chelsea have ever lost to Dynamo Kiev across four games combined in total, so hopefully that trend continues. Dynamo may not be the strongest team, but any lapse of concentration could end Chelsea’s European trophy hopes. As Real Madrid’s crushing defeat at the hands of Ajax showed yesterday, anything can happen in a knockout competition.