A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s home leg against Dynamo Kiev.
This Thursday evening Chelsea start their Europa League last 16 tie against Dynamo Kiev with the first leg at Stamford Bridge. The Blues are now battling away in just 2 competitions and so this tie takes on an even more important role.
After recent improvements in performances, Chelsea currently lie within striking distance of the top 4 in the Premier League. The proof that the team have turned for the better are summed up perfectly when you pay attention to the supporters’s reaction to Jorginho. The Italian midfielder was booed off the pitch as the team lost their grip on the FA Cup against Manchester United, but then they sung his name as he was substituted in the win at Fulham.
So while Chelsea’s hopes of reaching the promised land of the Champions League next season are still well and truly alive via their domestic league, attentions now turn to The Blues’s other potential route into Europe’s premier competition. After 7 wins out of their 8 matches so far, Chelsea have now reached the last 16 of this season’s Europa League. Standing in their way is Dynamo Kiev from Ukraine.
The 2 clubs met in the Champions League group stages back in 2015. The Blues battled to a goalless draw in Ukraine and gained a narrow 2-1 victory at home. In the away match, Chelsea hit the woodwork twice and had a valid shout for a penalty turned away. Although the performance was good, it did come on the back of a 2-1 defeat away at Porto.
Jose Mourinho’s side were struggling to defend their Premier League title and were languishing down in 15th place when they scrapped to the home win. Willian’s 83rd minute winner did ease some pressure on the Portuguese manager but we all know how that ended up.
This time they face the Ukrainians in a slightly better state of mind. After heavy losses in the league and defeats in both domestic cups, The Blues have improved in recent matches, including 2 London derby victories within 4 days. The second half against Fulham was not easy, but a number of players looked physically and mentally tired with what they have endured in the recent weeks and The Cottagers used all their efforts to push their illustrious neighbours all the way.
Maurizio Sarri could well be forced to alter his preferred starting line up on the back of the signs of tiredness. Eden Hazard, Jorginho, Marcos Alonso, Antonio Rudiger and possibly even N’Golo Kante could well be rested. David Luiz played no part in Sunday’s win over Fulham and is likely to return alongside Andreas Christensen in defence.
Otherwise we could see Emerson Palmieri, Mateo Kovacic, Willian, Olivier Giroud and possibly even Willy Caballero start. But all eyes won’t be on even the goalkeeper situation. No, it will all be about whether either or even both Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi make the starting XI.
After Sarri’s ability to show signs of tactical adjustments and his clearly favourite player, Jorginho, not only playing very well but also scoring, the last remaining major issue that most Chelsea supporters have with their manager is his lack of faith in our talented youngsters.
Almost every supporter would love to see both start on Thursday and be given a real chance to shine in an important match for the club. This isn’t just a group match, but a home leg that The Blues will need to win, and win well. With the away leg only next week in an inhospitable 70,000 stadium full of partisan passionate support, a full 4 hour flight away and less than 72 before an away trip to Everton, Chelsea will want to take as commanding a lead as possible to such an environment.
Unlike Malmö FF, Dynamo Kiev are in the middle of their domestic season. They lie second behind Shaktar Donetsk after 20 matches and have played 4 times since returning from their winter break.
Their european adventure started as early as 7 August. Victory in the 3rd qualifying round of the Champions League was followed by defeat to Ajax in the play-off round. This sent the Ukrainians in to the group stage of the Europa League. They topped their group after 3 wins and only 1 defeat.
They narrowly defeated Olympiacos in the round of 32 and are regarded as underdogs against The Blues. Their biggest hope will be to frustrate the Londoners on Thursday before hoping the atmosphere will carry them on to victory back at the Olympic Stadium.
So Sarri has a number of issues to juggle with before setting his team up for the home leg. Everyone linked with the club will be aiming for a strong home victory to take to the Ukrainian capital, but player fatigue and rotation is also paramount.
If we see Kepa Arrizabalaga, N’Golo Kante, both Willian and Pedro, and Gonzalo Higuain starting, it will be a sign of Sarri’s desperation to gain as strong a win as possible.
If the manager gets the balance right, Chelsea will head to Eastern Europe with a lead to defend, 3 points against Wolverhampton Wanderers and some refreshed key players. Achieve all 3 of these and the Italian will deserve plenty of praise.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroBlue