Chelsea travel to Belarus to take on BATE Borisov Thursday night in the Europa League. These two teams met two weeks ago at Stamford Bridge where a hat-trick from Ruben Loftus-Cheek gave Chelsea a 3-1 victory.
With a win on Thursday night, Chelsea have the chance to qualify from their group and, depending on the result between PAOK and MOL Vidi, could clinch top spot in Group L.
Given the travel distance, Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has opted to take just 19 players to face BATE, leaving Marcos Alonso, David Luiz, Antonio Rudiger, and Alvaro Morata back in London to rest. N’Golo Kante was set to join the group that didn’t travel, but Cesc Fabregas has an illness and was left out instead.
Eden Hazard has travelled with the squad to take on BATE after returning from a back injury to play 30 minutes against Crystal Palace. Sarri says that Hazard is available to play tomorrow for 45 to 50 minutes, but didn’t say whether or not the Belgian would start.
Hazard’s presence could actually be a good thing, though. Willian looked as if he was a little fatigued before being replaced by Hazard against Crystal Pace. Given the Brazilian has started 11 straight matches with Hazard and Pedro both missing time due to injuries in that period, it might be worthwhile to give Willian a little break to start the match.
Since only 19 members of the squad travelled, there will be a spot or possibly two on the bench for Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ethan Ampadu. Ampadu has not made an appearance for Chelsea yet this season, and there are rumours swirling about that he might go out on loan during the January window. Hudson-Odoi just had his 18th birthday on Wednesday, and he has made three appearances this season, including starting in this season’s Community Shield.
But a tough trip away to BATE might not be the best way to introduce youngsters to the first team, so it’s likely that Chelsea will field a strong 11, albeit with some changes.
The Blues will also be very wary of what happened on Tuesday night when Liverpool travelled to Belgrade and were shocked with a 2-0 defeat to Red Star Belgrade after beating them 4-0 at Anfield two weeks before.
Chelsea find themselves in sort of a similar situation. They dominated BATE for large periods of the match at Stamford Bridge, although they did concede a late goal from a set piece which was largely down to a lack of concentration.
While BATE aren’t the best team Chelsea will face this season, the situation calls for the team to put in a solid professional performance in order to qualify from the group and remove the pressure from the last two matches in the Europa League, especially as those matches come directly after matches against Tottenham and Manchester City in the Premier League.