A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s opening Europa League match.
After a perfect start to his first Premier League campaign, Maurizio Sarri now takes his Chelsea team into European competition as they travel to Northen Greece for their away match against PAOK Salonika on Thursday evening.
The match signifies the next stage of The Blues’s season. The upcoming midweek competitions are likely to see the manager rotate his team as he utilises the full extent of his squad. The Italian has been consistent when choosing his starting line up for the 5 Premier League matches so far this season, but in Greece we will see him show a different hand.
As easy as it sounds, this is a very difficult balancing act to achieve. Sarri will want to preserve the momentum created by their flawless start to the season while giving as many key players time to rest before continuing their Premier League campaign. A continuation of his footballing philosophy and the fast passing attack minded style will be paramount. To this end we can expect a few regulars to remain in the side, supplemented with a selection of experienced and young fringe players.
With the likes of Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas joining Andreas Christensen, Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi being brought into the team, Sarri will have the chance for most of his first choice players to remain focused on the tricky away match at West Ham on Sunday. That still leaves the potential for Emerson Palmieri, Davide Zappacosta, Ross Barkley and, if has recovered from his injury, Ruben Loftus-Cheek to be called up.
Up front, this match against the side who were runners up in the Greek league last season could give the perfect opportunity for Alvaro Morata to rebuild some much needed confidence in front of goal. However key to this will be how well the team play behind him and how well the supply will be to the Spanish striker.
POAK themselves may not be one of Europe’s leading lights as a football team, but their fans certainly turn their home stadium, the 29,000 full to capacity Toumba Stadium, into an extremely loud, intimidating and bright spectacle. With all sides of the ground lit up with flares and a passionate home support, this will certainly be a baptism for The Blues into this season’s European adventure.
Add to that a club president who walked onto the pitch with a holstered gun only 6 months ago, an act which suspended the whole Greek league, Chelsea will do well to focus on their own approach. The closer the Londoners can keep to their manager’s possession based style of play the more likely they should run out victorious. And with most of the side made up with players who will want to impress their manager in the hope of more regular football, they will do well to follow precisely what the boss requests of them. A strong, focused team performance should see The Blues start as they hope to continue, with a win that keeps their momentum flowing.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue