Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Chelsea vs PAOK Match Preview (29/11/18): Blues to Bounce Back from Spurs Debacle in Style

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There were many different words used on social media to describe Chelsea’s performance against Tottenham on Saturday, ranging from the salty to the downright extreme.

It’s hugely frustrating when you go down to a local rival and a side who you are clearly competing with for a top four finish. But there’s ways of losing well and ways of losing badly….and the Blues’ effort was firmly in the latter camp.

When you go 0-2 down to a side of Tottenham’s class after just 16 minutes you are always up against it, and in truth we never really looked like getting back into the game.

We can point the finger of blame at individuals, and it’s true there were some abject displays at Wembley, but the reality is that Spurs’ high press stifled our possession game and simply didn’t allow us any time on the ball to settle.

The fact we could only muster two shots on target – and just one up to the point when Olivier Giroud netted an 85th minute consolation – speaks volumes.

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“I am disappointed because we played very badly. I think we played very badly in all directions - physically, mentally, technically and tactically,” was Sarri’s post-match reflection.

“I knew we had some problems and with this performance today it was clear to everybody we have problems to solve. I think in the last three or four matches we have started not really very well.

“Today I did not like anybody.”

There must be some temptation on Sarri’s part to field a strong side against PAOK in the Europa League on Thursday then. It would certainly be an apt ‘punishment’ for Saturday’s efforts.

But then again he might want to have a look at some of his squad players with an eye on making changes to his normal starting eleven against Fulham on Sunday.

Chelsea Team News

As if the performance and the scoreline against Spurs weren’t bad enough, there was also the sight of Eden Hazard limping around the Wembley turf.

Happily, the prognosis isn’t too concerning. “My injury I think is not something bad,” the Belgian said. “I think I just twisted my ankle, but it’s like every game, it’s the same. I am used to [it] and I will be back soon.”

It is unlikely that Hazard will be risked against PAOK, with Pedro deputising, and we anticipate changes elsewhere too.

Kepa was excellent in goal against Spurs, and he might just be treated to the night off given how many games he has already played this term. Willy Caballero stands by to deputise.

Sarri can and possibly will change the whole back four too: Zappacosta, Christensen, Cahill and Emerson Palmieri all possibly coming into the side.

There could be a new look in midfield too, with Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic possibly being joined by Cesc Fabregas, with Willian given a rest and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – knocking on the door of the first team – coming in.

And Olivier Giroud is back amongst the goals for club and country; he will be given a chance to stake his claim for a regular starting berth.

Chelsea vs PAOK Head to Head

The first meeting between these sides in the Europa League, which the Blues won 1-0, is the only encounter we have had with the Greek outfit.

Since then their campaign has been in tatters, with home and away defeats against MOL Vidi quite possibly ending their hopes of qualification for the next phase of the competition.

How the Match Will Be Won

This match is a distraction, nothing more, but Maurizio Sarri will be expecting much more than a distracted performance from his players.

There are, quite possibly, places up for grabs ahead of Sunday’s tie with Fulham, and if the boss impresses that upon the starting eleven here we can expect a dedicated and lively performance.

We may field a side featuring players with plenty to prove and lots to gain: Giroud, Pedro, Barkley, Loftus-Cheek and co. As such, we’re expecting a commanding Chelsea display.

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We don’t know a huge amount about PAOK, and while they were stubborn enough in the reverse fixture a trip to Stamford Bridge is a whole different kettle of fish.

As such, Chelsea will surely win this game and win it well. Even if wholesale changes are made to the starting eleven, our fringe players have proven already in this competition that they are up for it and ready to produce a committed, disciplined performance.

Expect them to provide plenty of food for thought to Sarri on Thursday.

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