Maurizio Sarri was thrown in at the deep end on his introduction to English football. He was keen to say so after a tough first assignment against Manchester City in the Community Shield. Few people were surprised that Pep Guaridola’s men were victorious that day at Wembley Stadium and Sarri was at pains to tell Blues fans that it would take time for his new team to adapt to his methods. Thankfully it didn’t take long for that adaptation to start bearing fruit.
The loss against City remains Chelsea’s only defeat of the season. Yes, it hasn’t always gone 100% to plan – the scrappy defending against Arsenal and the goalless draw with West Ham stand out – but you can’t say that Sarri’s start to life at Stamford Bridge has been anything but impressive. That extends to the Europa League where a dogged performance against PAOK saw Chelsea return home from Greece with the points and it’s that competition that Sarri is now focussing on as MOL Vidi visit the Bridge on Thursday evening.
Team News: Strong Team Expected Despite Inevitable Rotation
This is unchartered territory for Chelsea. Sarri is the first manager who’s had to deal with the punishing Thursday-Sunday schedule for (hopefully) the whole season as this is the Blues’ first ever appearance in the group stages of the Europa League.
Sarri will doubtless be working hand in glove with the backroom staff to assess which players are close to entering the dreaded ‘red zone’ and therefore need a rest ahead of Sunday’s trip to St Mary’s to take on Southampton. This being the early stages of the season though, Sarri will likely refrain from making wholesale changes. That was the order of the day for the trip to Greece – probably Chelsea’s toughest match of the group stage – when Sarri made five changes from the team who stuffed Cardiff 4-1 so expect a strong team to take to the pitch on Thursday.
In terms of injuries, things are looking good. There’s no point in risking Pedro’s shoulder for what should be a routine win and Ruben Loftus-Cheek is another unlikely to be called into action but everybody else looks in good shape. The only other limitations are that Danny Drinkwater, Lucas Piazon and Rob Green are not in the Europa League squad.
MOL Vidi Form
As you’ll doubtless be aware from your religious viewing of the Nemzeti Bajnokság – or Hungarian Division 1 – MOL Vidi’s title defence hasn’t gone entirely to plan so far. Marko Nikolic’s men have bucked their ideas up with wins in their last two matches but that’s only been good enough to see them climb to third, some eight points behind the runaway leaders, Ferencvaros.
Part of the problem for MOL Vidi is that they expended so much energy trying to qualify for the Champions League. Vidi managed to navigate a path past F91 Dudelange, Ludogorets and Malmo but fell at the final hurdle, losing over two legs to AEK Athens.
Chelsea v MOL Vidi Head to Head
This is the first time that Chelsea and MOL Vidi have ever crossed paths and the Hungarian side’s first visit to England since 1985. Fans of the club do still remember fondly the time they beat Manchester United in the quarter finals of the 1984/85 UEFA Cup.
- Chelsea to Win to Nil – 8/13 with bet365
- Alvaro Morata to Score First – 14/5 with Ladbrokes
It’s clear that a club like Chelsea should be playing in the Champions League but there’s no need to view the Europa League simply as a punishment for the mistakes of last season. Sarri can do himself and his players the world of good by getting everybody to buy into the idea that this is a real opportunity. From a collective point of view it’s an opportunity to win something meaningful in Sarri’s first season at the Bridge and from an individual point of view it is an opportunity for squad players to play themselves into form and potentially into the first team.
You can only imagine how quickly things would have unravelled in the Europa League if Antonio Conte was still in charge. He found it difficult to motivate players for the biggest games at times, let alone MOL Vidi at home, so Sarri’s man management will be key throughout the tournament. If he is able to light a fire under the 11 players that he picks on Thursday night there is no question that Chelsea will be far too strong for their opponents.
MOL Vidi should be congratulated for the way that they won the Hungarian title last season and for their application in attempting to qualify for the Champions League but this is another step up entirely. Not only are Chelsea unbeaten in all their competitive matches so far this season but they’ve played some very good football in doing so. That said, there is little point backing the Blues to win at a best price of 1/10 unless. It makes much more sense to take a slightly bigger risk and take bet365 up on the 8/13 they’re quoting about Chelsea winning to nil.
One of the issues that Sarri will have to solve over the coming season is keeping clean sheets against the best teams. MOL Vidi, however, are one of the weakest sides that will visit Stamford Bridge this season so a win to nil should be on the cards. An Alvaro Morata goal should also be on the cards if he is given the chance to shine. Motivating a man who has scored 12 times in the Champions League to do the business against relative European minnows won’t be easy but there’s no doubt that the Spaniard is playing for his future at the club. It’s time for him to step up and we have faith that he will on Thursday night so back Morata to score the game’s opening goal at 14/5 with Ladbrokes.