Chelsea are just 90 minutes away from a place in the Europa League’s round of 16, a spot that they will be looking to confirm against Malmo at Stamford Bridge on Thursday.
Maurizio Sarri’s side were 2-1 winners in Sweden during last week’s first leg, with Ross Barkley and Olivier Giroud getting the goals either side of half time for the visitors. However, a late finish from Anders Christiansen has kept Uwe Rosler’s side in the tie.
Either side of Chelsea’s first leg victory, they have succumbed to two crushing defeats to Manchester City and Manchester United, the first of which was a 6-0 thrashing at the Etihad Stadium, their heaviest defeat in Premier League history, whilst the latter dethroned their status as the current FA Cup holders.
Fans of the Blues are starting to turn against the club and its manager, and quite frankly, progression in the Europa League appears to be the most realistic of their opportunities to achieve qualification for next season’s Champions League.
Here is who we think will start for Chelsea against Malmo in the return leg tomorrow night.
Predicted line-up: (4-3-3) Willy Caballero; Davide Zappacosta, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Emerson; Ross Barkley, Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek; Willian, Olivier Giroud, Callum Hudson-Odoi
Predicted substitutes: Marcin Bulka, David Luiz, Marcos Alonso, Jorginho, N’Golo Kante, Eden Hazard, Gonzalo Higuain
In Sarri’s pre-match press conference, he confirmed that Kepa will miss the match with a hamstring injury, meaning Willy Caballero is in line for his first Europa League start since their 2-2 draw with MOL Vidi in December.
With this tie taking place less than 70 hours prior to the Blues’ Carabao Cup final against City, wholesale changes are to be expected. Because of that, Andreas Christensen and Emerson could be called into the starting side in place of David Luiz and Marcos Alonso respectively, leaving Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger as the remaining defenders in the back four from the team that lost to United earlier this week.
Sarri is still in search of working out how to anchor his midfield when he wants to rest Jorginho and at present, one of his most likely candidates appears to be Mateo Kovacic. The Croatian could be given the chance to prove himself in that role, with English duo Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek starting ahead of him in the three-man midfield, a combination which would see Jorginho and N’Golo Kante spared.
Giroud’s clever finish in the first leg took his tally for the season in this competition up to five, only Red Bull Salzburg’s Munas Dabbur has more (six). The French 2018 World Cup winner is set to return to lead the attacking line, where he could be assisted out wide by Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi, a trio which would see Pedro, Gonzalo Higuain and Eden Hazard all come out of the team.
There is still a job to be done for the Blues but returning from Sweden with a victory and two away goals showed that they have already produced the hard graft needed for progression.
Score prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Malmo