A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s Europa League clash away to MOL Vidi.
This week sees the group stage of this season’s UEFA Europa League draw to a close as Chelsea travel to Hungary for their away match against MOL Vidi. The Blues are guaranteed to finish top of the group having won all 5 matches so far this campaign.
On paper, having dispatched the current English champions over the weekend, getting the better of the current Hungarian champions should be a much smoother task. However, Vidi still have a chance to qualify for the knockout stages and they will also be playing for an enormous amount pride in what is a dream fixture for the club.
Maurizio Sarri is expected to make wholesale changes and name a similar looking line up to Chelsea’s previous UEL match, when they comfortably dispatched PAOK Salonika 4-0 at home. Even goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has not traveled and all 10 outfield positions are likely to see rotation as the first team who played so magnificently on Saturday get a well deserved rest ahead of the busy Christmas Premier League schedule.
Although this second string performed very well against the Greek league leaders, Andreas Christensen, Cesc Fabregas, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Alvaro Morata were all in the starting line up that ended up on the losing side away at Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier this month. They will be desperate to ensure they finish on the winning side this time as they endeavour to gain more Premier League action over the coming weeks.
Possibly the biggest interest in Sarri’s starting line up will be who he chooses to lead his attack. There was plenty of media speculation that when Morata was left out of the 18 for the clash with Manchester City. A number of outlets run with the club wanting to offload their expensive acquisition as early as January. I’m sure whether it is the Spaniard or Olivier Giroud who starts, the speculation in one form or another will remain.
It has proven to be a tight race for second spot in the group and Vidi have endured a mixed set of results so far. When they visited Stamford Bridge they only lost narrowly to a Morata strike. Their 6 points have only been earned in their home and away victories over PAOK Salonika, with them enduring back to back defeats to BATE Borisov.
In their previous earlier match up, Chelsea dominated their Hungarian opponents, but struggled to unlock a very well organised defence. Vidi also showed signs of being dangerous on the counter attack as well as coming close to scoring from set pieces. In fact, Chelsea’s clean sheet was kept intact mostly thanks to goalkeeper Kepa.
Vidi are on 6 points along with Borisov, but due to losing to the champions of Belarus in both head to head matches, they need to achieve a better result than Borisov in the last matchday to qualify for the knockout stages. So while lining up against The Blues, Vidi will have one eye on Borisov’s score line as they play away at Salonika. If Borisov win, Vidi will be eliminated no matter how they get on against Chelsea. Both matches kick off at the same time, so Vidi’s motivation may fluctuate during the 90 minutes dependant on the score in Greece.
However, we can be assured that every player who gets valuable playing time for The Blues will be highly motivated to do their best and impress their manager. Sarri himself will be committed to rounding off this stage with another victory. After all he led Napoli to 6 wins out of 6 in the group stage in his only other Europa League campaign and is surely keen to repeat that feat.
So with the likelihood of the home side needing a victory and a back up team of players all desperate to impress, this match could be a more open affair than the Stamford Bridge clash. And a perfect 6 out of 6 will be a boost ahead of Monday’s knockout round draw and Chelsea’s journey towards another European final.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue