Chelsea’s chances of finishing top four in the Premier League may have increased after some crucial wins, but the Europa League is still a viable route back into the Champions League next season — and would get us there in 7 games rather than 10 in the league. First up, in the Round of 16, are Ukrainian runners-up Dynamo Kiev, who certainly should not be underestimated.
Before the Fulham game last Sunday, Maurizio Sarri said that Kepa Arrizabalaga would start one of the next two games. This should mean that backup goalkeeper Willy Caballero will get the nod today, possibly as a reward for behaving like a good professional throughout this whole Kepa-substitution incident.
Sarri also promised “some” rotation for this game due mostly to fatigue. Surely, that will mean Alonso and Zappacosta rotating in at full back, with the latter’s absence through injury noted by Sarri in our last Europa League game — Azpilicueta is in dire need of some rest having started 14 in a row in all competitions and not have had a day off since before Christmas. David Luiz got his rest on Sunday, which will see him come in for one of Christensen or Rüdiger, with the latter more likely to keep his place.
In midfield, Ruben Loftus-Cheek is due a start after 8 straight substitute appearances, while Mateo Kovačić should rotate in for either Jorginho or N’Golo Kanté, depending on just how adventurous Sarri would like to be. But Kovačić has basically become Jorginho’s backup since Fàbregas left in January, so let’s go with that option.
Sarri’s pre-match words did not give great hope to Callum Hudson-Odoi starting this one, despite Eden Hazard pretty much slated for a breather after struggling a bit for fitness over the past week. Giroud is our man for the Europa, so he will start, but he’ll most likely be flanked by Pedro and Willian, neither of whom are exactly out of form at the moment, in fairness.
Caballero | Emerson, David Luiz, Rüdiger, Zappacosta | Loftus-Cheek, Kovačić, Kanté | Willian, Giroud, Pedro
THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE
There were lots of close calls in the WAGNH community voting — only Ampadu (20%), Cahill (7%), and Drinkwater (5%) received less than at least a third of the vote — but there was no doubt about Hudson-Odoi leading the way once again. He was one of just four players (including Loftus-Cheek, Christensen, and Kanté) to receive over two-thirds of the vote. The rest were in the mid-range, many separated by just the odd percent or two.
Arrizabalaga (61%) | Emerson (50%), Christensen (79%), David Luiz (56%), Azpilicueta (59%) | Loftus-Cheek (79%), Kovačić (64%), Kanté (70%) | Hazard (45%), Giroud (51%), Hudson-Odoi (84%)
I trust Willy Caballero to do well and Sarri to further underline his authority and drive home a point to Kepa. I’d like to see Christensen retain his place, but both fullbacks rotated so that Emerson and Azpilicueta are rested up for Sunday. We’re all in agreement on the midfield, and up front, it simply has to be Hudson-Odoi.
Caballero | Alonso, Christensen, David Luiz, Zappacosta | Loftus-Cheek, Kovačić, Kanté | Pedro, Giroud, Hudson-Odoi
COME ON YOU BLUES!!!