Chelsea are in a dominant position in their Champions League group and they will be looking for another victory over PAOK Thessaloniki. The Blues have a 100% record in the competition and they have already qualified for the next stage. Although they have ambitions greater than the Europa League, they should treat the competition with respect and look to win the trophy in May. Maurizio Sarri hasn’t won a major trophy as a manager, which is one of the reasons why they should be looking for success on a Thursday night.
The weekend was a disappointment for Chelsea, as they suffered their first major setback of the season. The Blue were dominated by Tottenham and lost 3-1 on Saturday. This was their first loss of the Premier League and it was a wake-up call that the team has a long way to progress until they are serious title contenders again. Sarri would have realised that when he took the job and he must now show that he can coach the team to bounce back. The Europa League can be an unwanted distraction at times, but this fixture comes at a good time to rebuild confidence ahead of the match against Fulham at the weekend.
PAOK will have ambitions of making the next round of the Europa League, but they will need a positive result on Thursday. They currently have only three points from four matches, having lost three of their four matches. In the Greece Super League, they are the league leaders having won all but one of their matches to date. They have already built a seven-point lead, but they haven’t displayed that form in Europe. Despite that, they are a team that can cause problems for Chelsea if they turn up.
At the weekend, Olivier Giroud became only the second player after Jermain Defoe to score 20 goals as a substitute in the Premier League. He will be looking to make an impact as a starter on Thursday.
PAOK have conceded only four league goals in 11 Greek Super League matches.
Ross Barkley has had a big impact already this season and he is proving that he has the talent to contribute at a top-six club. His Chelsea career was slow to start under Antonio Conte, but he has been one of the players to benefit from Sarri taking over. It is obvious that the Italian coach wants to have an attacking midfielder capable of contributing goals and assists in attack. Matteo Kovacic is his main competition for a starting berth, but the Croatian hasn’t been able to have the impact in attack that Barkley has done. The Europa League will provide another opportunity for the former Everton man to show why he should be starting on a regular basis. In the Premier League, the England international has contributed three goals and three assists, but there is more to come from him. Thursday provides a good chance for him to add to his tally for the season.
PAOK’s players won’t be well known to an English audience, but they have a number of players that could impress on Thursday. Leo Jaba has been their star man in the Europa League to date, with two goals and two assists in the competition. These came in an extraordinary display against BATE Borisov and he will be keen to deliver a similarly eye-catching display against the Greek’s more illustrious opposition. At the age of 20, he has a lot of potential and he will see this competition as an opportunity to attract interest from bigger leagues. Although he doesn’t contribute defensively, he is explosive on the ball and capable of causing problems for the Chelsea defenders.
Eden Hazard and Ethan Ampadu are both doubts for the home side. A number of changes are expected following the defeat to Spurs. Ross Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Olivier Giroud could all be given the opportunity to start.
Leo Matos is the only player that could miss out for the visitors, but he is expected to be part of the travelling squad. Chuba Akpom is playing for the Greeks and will be hoping to feature in his homeland.
This should be a straightforward home win for Chelsea and it could be just the tonic after their awful showing against Tottenham. Maurizio Sarri will see this as a chance to score a few goals and increase confidence around the club ahead of a busy festive period. It will be interesting to see how the Italian manages his squad over the next month, as he won’t be used to the scheduling in the Premier League. If he is thinking wisely, this is a perfect opportunity to rest key players, as Chelsea have nothing riding on the game.
Chelsea 3-0 PAOK