Make no mistake, the Europa League Champions are not a team to be underestimated. They proved that last year in beating Wolves, Man United and Inter Milan on route to the trophy. And, despite the tendencies of Premier League fans to call other leagues ‘farmers leagues’, their 4th placed La Liga finish is also worthy of respect. However, the Spanish outfit have started this season in a rather different form than they finished the last; they currently sit 10th in the league having won only taken 7 points from four games. Perhaps like Chelsea, they are prone to inconsistency and that is something the Blues should look to capitalise on.
Champions League Returns
Chelsea’s last Champions League campaign was less than satisfactory. Multiple lacklustre performances meant that we left it until the last game-week to qualify from the group. Even then, the second-placed finish left us vulnerable to, eventual winners, Bayern Munich, who beat us 7-1 over the course of two legs. Nonetheless, the return of European nights to Stamford Bridge is something to be celebrated and we hope to look forward to more games like the 4-4 v Ajax last season.
Chelsea start this campaign with much a completely different team to last time out. The Champions League has often been described as Hakim Ziyech’s favourite competition and Lampard will certainly benefit from having the Morrocan back in contention. Whether the Winger, who had the most assists in last year’s group stage, makes his first competitive start for the club remains to be seen.
Two players who are all-but-guaranteed to feature at Stamford Bridge are Timo Werner and Kai Havertz. The pair of Germans have been in scintillating form of late and combined well numerous times on Saturday. This will be an opportunity to get a few more games under their belt and start to build consistency for the season ahead.
One thing that has remained consistent from last season, is Chelsea’s vulnerabilities. Despite being to field a virtually unrecognisable back-line from the one that got ravaged by Bayern, Lampard has failed to solve the evident frailties at the back. Injuries and individual errors haven’t helped and, for that reason, the manager would be pleased to see Thiago Silva and Edouard Mendy return to training today. However, whether they come straight back into the team remains to be seen. Questions also remain about the second CB position, with Zouma, Christensen or Tomori all vying for the spot; and over the RB, with Reece James having been dropped for the last three games despite his strong start to the season.
With the offensive arsenal available up-front, I expect a free-scoring performance with Pulisic, Ziyech and Werner all getting in amongst the goals. However, expecting a clean-sheet would be optimistic, to say the least. Even if the defensive reinforcements are fit for the game, I predict we’ll ship a couple at the other end.