Image Source: czefootball.com
Chelsea return to Europa League action this week as they travel to Prague to take on Slavia Prague in the two-legged quarter-final. With the games coming thick and fast rotation is the name of the game and Maurizio Sarri is adapting to it by choice or force from above. Either way, Chelsea’s supporters are beginning to see a style of play they deserve.
In terms of how Sarri regards Chelsea’s chances of Champions League qualification, recent team selections suggest that Sarri may have elected to put his Easter eggs in the European basket. He must be given some credit for playing Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Calum Hudson-Odoi in the last two league games and the results were clear to see.
With Sarri, as with most football manager’s, it’s difficult to gauge what’s actually going on inside his head. You get the odd pre and post-match sound bite but very little that really gives anything away. Does his sudden use of ‘the kids’ indicate that he really does trust them? Or, has been told that he must play the likes of CHO and RLC for the benefit of all parties.
However it has come about Chelsea have won their last three league games and are starting to apply pressure to the teams around them. It is disappointing that Sarri has taken so long to make the necessary changes to personnel that actually affect games. Whether he is yet able to do that in-game remains to be seen – I have doubts.
With a big game against Liverpool coming up on Sunday, that has to be the focus of Chelsea’s attention. Slavia should be beatable whoever plays – no offence.
Goalkeeper – I’d like to say Willy Caballero will start in goal but he won’t, I did want to mention him though, it’s no easy job being a number two goalkeeper. At any minute you could be called into action but the chances a slim. It must play havoc with your emotions. Kepa Arrizabalaga will, of course, start in goal.
Defence – Despite calls for him to not play Cesar Azpilicueta remains Chelsea captain on-field and however he performs, he does take that role seriously. Maurizio Sarri has already said Andreas Christensen will play in this game due to his pace with David Luiz dropping down to the bench. Antonio Rudiger will sit alongside the young Dane in what has to be the club’s best centre-back pairing. There is still a doubt concerning Marcos Alonso’s fitness, so if it’s pace Sarri is after Emerson fits that role much better than the Spaniard.
Midfield – If Jorginho didn’t play would it really be a Sarri team? Anyone that pulls on the blue shirt gets my unconditional support but I’d so like to see N’golo Kante back there. The little Frenchman was, at times, the furthest Chelsea player forward against West Ham and you’d put him your team any day, but he’s no natural goal scorer. One player who has seen diminishing game time recently is Mateo Kovacic, this game will be a chance for him to get another 65 minutes under his belt for being replaced by Ross Barkley. If the game is comfortable for Chelsea, look out for Barkley picking up a second yellow card that will see him suspended for the second-leg.
Attack – Eden Hazard is a Chelsea player, let’s make that clear. His first goal against the Hammer’s was just sublime. He’ll want to play in Prague and if he can help produce a comfortable win can sit out the return leg. Callum Hudson-Odoi’s rise in the pecking order has seen Willian and Pedro both benched. Many will be cheering at that but it’s unlikely that CHO will start this game. Willian has played just six minutes of the last two games and will be keen to get a start. Don’t be surprised if he gets on the score sheet. Gonzalo Higuain has struggled since he arrived in London, he probably doesn’t understand the system as much as he was supposed to. Olivier Giroud, on the other hand, knows all about this competition and is currently topping the scoring charts. It’s a no brainer who starts up front.
Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Christensen, Emerson, Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic, Hazard, Willian, Giroud
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