Chelsea will be looking to tie up the group on Thursday and guarantee that they will top group L with a win over PAOK at Stamford Bridge at 8pm.
They will be looking to continue their 100% win record in Group L, which was in doubt in the last match for Chelsea in the Europa League, where a goal from Olivier Giroud was enough for Chelsea to see off BATE in Belarus.
On the Other hand, PAOK need a positive result from Stamford Bridge to keep their hopes of qualification from Group L alive, considering that they sit 3 points behind second-placed Vidi in Group L.
A failure to win at Stamford Bridge, coupled with a draw in the game between BATE and Vidi, would end PAOK’s European adventures for another year. Victory for Vidi away at BATE in the early kickoff, meanwhile, will render this fixture a dead rubber for Razvan Lucescu‘s side.
Chelsea are currently in 1st place with 12 points and a positive goal difference of +5.
The reverse fixtures between the two sides in Greece on matchday 1 in the Europa League finished 1-0 to the blues with a Willian goal in the 7th minute being enough for the blues to pick up the 3 points in Greece.
Maurizio Sarri is expected to rotate his squad ahead of this group match on Thursday, considering that they play on Sunday in the London Derby against their neighbours Fulham in the Premier League.
This isn’t a must-win game for Sarri’s blues, but finishing the group early would mean that the Italian boss could use the youngsters like Ampadu and Hudson-Odoi in their last group game, away in Hungary against Vidi. So that should be the incentive for Sarri’ blues to get the job done on Thursday.
The Other incentive for Sarri’s blues is to get that Tottenham performance out of their system, so this group game provides them with an opportunity to bounce back.
Form in the Europa League;
An injury knocked sustained by Eden Hazard aside, Sarri has a fully-fit squad to choose from on Thursday night.
A number of fringe players are likely to get the nod here, even if top spot is not yet secured, so the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Pedro, Emerson Palmieri and Davide Zappacosta should all return to the fold.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is also in contention, a month on from scoring a hat-trick in a comfortable win against BATE here, while Olivier Giroud is expected to start instead of Alvaro Morata up top.
In terms of the visitors, Mauricio may return alongside Pontus Wernbloom in defensive midfield if Lucescu continues to chop and change in that department.
Dimitris Pelkas is another in line to return on the back of the loss to Vidi, though Aleksandar Prijovic should continue to lead the line after following up his goal in Serbia’s win over Lithuania with a strike against Xanthi.
Meanwhile, Omar El Kaddouri is at risk of missing PAOK’s final game should he pick up a yellow card on Thursday evening.
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Caballero; Zappacosta, Cahill, Christensen, Emerson; Loftus-Cheek, Fabregas, Barkley; Pedro, Giroud, Willian
PAOK possible starting lineup:
Paschalakis; Matos, Varela, Crespo, Tosca; Wernbloom, Mauricio; Limnios, Pelkas, Kaddouri; Prijovic
Manager and Player Comments;
Chelsea Manager- Maurizio Sarri
Summary of the press conference (Credit: Nizaar Kinsella)
- Hazard injured, not seriously, Moses out too
- Hudson-Odoi in 18 vs PAOK, Sarri explained he needs to improve
- Jorginho-Kante won’t switch positions
- Sarri met every Chelsea player after the loss to Spurs to discuss their “lack of determination”
Chelsea Striker Olivier Giroud
Giroud on Spurs loss: “We were not mentally ready to play this kind of game. I don’t know [why]. If I had the answer maybe I could be in Sarri’s staff.”
Giroud on squad reaction to Spurs defeat: “It was a very disappointing result. The manager was not happy at all with our performance. We just want to take the defeat. It was our first defeat but it was hard to accept it.”
Giroud on understanding Sarri: “I think we understand his philosophy and how he wants us to play on the pitch. Basically, it is about following the ball, pressing high, being compact, but we didn’t do it against Spurs. So we have to come back to these principles.”
Giroud on three goals in four matches: “As a striker, it is always nice for confidence to score. I am not happy with the result but it is nice to come on the pitch and be efficient. I had different preparation because I came back [from France] after many in the team”
Giroud on fighting for starts at Chelsea: “It is quite tough for me in these past few weeks. I am a competitor and I want to be on the pitch to reach our targets and give my best. It is a big club with another good striker so the competition is quite fair.”
Giroud on change of position for Kante: “I think N’Golo can play in every single position in midfield. The manager’s philosophy means Jorginho and Cesc play an important part of our game. In the manager’s mind, N’Golo is more efficient to play box-to-box.”
Match Facts/ Head to Head Stats
Chelsea’s 1-0 win in Salonika on matchday one was the first meeting between these two clubs in a UEFA competition.
The English side are now unbeaten in five matches against Greek opposition and have won both home matches, most recently beating Olympiacos 3-0 in the 2007-08 Champions League last 16.
PAOK have a good record away to Premier League opposition, meanwhile, drawing 1-1 with Arsenal and winning 2-1 at Tottenham Hotspur on their previous two visits to these shores.
Betting Odds/My Prediction
Sky Bet have made Chelsea clear favourites for this game with a Chelsea win being priced at 1/3. A draw between these two sides is being priced at 4/1. And an unexpected PAOK win at Stamford Bridge is being priced at 8/1.
I am going for a tight 2-1 win to Chelsea. I think they will bounce back after that Tottenham result, but due to the fact that PAOK needs a positive result at the Bridge to keep their hopes of qualification alive, I think they will give it all they got at Stamford Bridge. However, I think the quality of Chelsea will just show through, hence why I have gone for a Chelsea win.
By Danyal Khan
Categories: Europa League