For the first time since 2015-16, Chelsea will finish top of our Champions League group stage and enter the knockout rounds as a seeded team. More pertinently for tonight, we also have nothing to play for in the final match of the group stage for the first time since 2014-15 — and neither do our opponents, who are locked into a third-place finish and qualification for the Europa League knockout stages. (Édouard Mendy’s former club, Rennes, will finish bottom of the group, with Sevilla easing into second.)
All that means is that Chelsea will likely rotate every single player in the starting XI, giving minutes to those who have been patiently biding their time — well, most of them, as some might still not get in thanks to the bloated size of the squad in certain positions (such as center back or left back).
Other than pride and a chance for a showcase, we do have a 16-match unbeaten run in all competitions to consider, while up to 2000 paying fans will be allowed to enter as well, and they’ll want to see a good game.
Winning is a habit.
Date / Time: Tuesday, December 8, 2020, 20.00 GMT; 3pm EST; 1:30am IST (next day)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Pavel Královec (on pitch); Paolo Valeri (VAR) — neither name rings a bell, but as it turns out, this will the third Chelsea match for Czech referee Královec, who was also in charge of our 2-1 win over Dynamo Kiev in the 2015-16 group stage, as well as our 2-1 win over FC Basel in the semifinals first leg of the 2012-13 Europa League. Throwback, that!
Forecast: Cold and damp
On TV: BT Sport 3 (UK); none (USA); Sony Six (India); SuperSport LaLiga, Canal+ Sport 2 (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: BT Sport Live (UK); CBS All Access, TUDNxtra (USA); Sony LIV (India); DStv Now (NGA) — if you’re in the US and you don’t want to subscribe to CBS’s streaming service because you’re not over 60 and/or don’t like Star Trek, you can also watch through Fubo TV, for which we have an affiliate link. CBS do offer a free trial for All Access, and they will be carrying the Champions League for the next several years, so you might as well get used to their lack of actual television coverage. Granted, this game pales in comparison to some of the other stuff going on, especially RB Leipzig vs. Manchester United, but other counties can do it just fine and it’s not like CBS are hurting for channels — none of which will be showing any of the games. Grin and bear it.
Chelsea team news: Hakim Ziyech’s hamstring gave up the ghost on Saturday, and Callum Hudson-Odoi’s did the same on Sunday. It’s truly an unfortunate problem for the latter, who started both of our last two Champions League games and put in back-to-back strong performances. With Ziyech also out, Pulisic just coming back from injury, and Werner in dire need of more regular rest, Lampard might have to get creative with the attack. Marcos Alonso was always born to play a forward anyway, right?
The manager did confirm starts for Kepa Arrizabalaga and Billy Gilmour in his pre-match press conference. It will be Gilmour’s first start of the season following knee surgery, while Kepa gets a low-pressure chance at redemption. Good luck to them both!
Krasnodar team news: Krasnodar were expected to finish last in the group, so they already overachieved in a sense, and now get a bonus trip to London out of it, too. Head coach Murad Musaev expects a rotated Chelsea to be up for it however — to prove themselves and stake their claims for increased minutes. In turn, they’re likely to rise the occasion as well, certainly at the start one would image.
Since we last met in Russia, which was loss number two in a five-match losing streak for them, the visitors have managed to right their sinking ship, and have won three of their last five in all competitions, including a 5-0 pasting of 10-man Rotor Volgograd over the weekend, the worst team in the division. If Krasnodar are to push on from their midtable malaise, they will need to maintain that momentum heading into the Russian Premier League’s winter break (two more games before then).
Previously: Chelsea came, saw, and conquered in the far corner of Europe, though Jorginho lost his job as the primary penalty taker for the team.