Chelsea await Slavia Prague in the shadow of consequences after Spurs’ shock win


Chelsea host Slavia Prague tonight in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final. The Londoners lead 1-0 from the first leg.

Chelsea are currently in limbo as they await the result from their appeal to FIFA over their transfer ban. It was heard on April 11 and the club are still awaiting the verdict.

That is one of three factors that filters down to manager Maurizio Sarri’s selection choices. Obviously the second is the slenderness of their lead from Prague.

Thirdly is their league battle to claim a Champions League place. They have another home game against Burnley in four days time before the crucial six pointer at Old Trafford on April 28th.

Just three points separate Tottenham in third and Manchester United in sixth, with only third and fourth qualifying for Europe’s prestige tournament.

There’s now a further complication added by Tottenham’s amazing victory over Manchester City in last night’s Champions League tie.

Should Spurs go on to win the Champions League, they will qualify for it automatically. That’s no big deal if they finish in the top four, but if they do not, then only the league’s top three will qualify if an English side also win the Europa League.

That latter prize can only be won by Chelsea and Arsenal, so all three London clubs now have two paths into next year’s Champions League. That is going to make the squad rotation choices fascinating for fans.

Chelsea lost their last game at high-flying Liverpool and may indeed see the Europa League as an easier path to the CL, given the other three competitors have five games left to their four.

Sarri may hope to bury this tie early but the fact that his side only have one away goal makes them vulnerable to the Czechs scoring early with a second away goal, leaving the Blues needing four.

Slavia are five points clear of second place Plzen with only two games left, and a far superior goal difference. Their remaining games are at ninth place Zlin in Moravia and home to eighth placed Sigma Olomouc. It’s a fair assumption that they will throw all their resources at the Stamford Bridge tie, and Chelsea will be vulnerable if they take the challenge lightly.

Antonio Rudiger’s knee makes him unavailable although he may be back for Old Trafford according to assistant manager Gianfranco Zola:

“[The knee injury] looks not as bad as we thought, luckily. When he came off limping, we were worried. Apparently it’s not that bad. He’s a strong boy and he’ll be back sooner than you expect.”

“There is a strong possibility that we see him [against Manchester United in 10 days]. He’s a warrior and won’t want to miss a game like that. The next few days will be very important to see if he can continue recovering. He’s an important player for us.”

That seems like an easy absence to bear given the recent form of young Dane Andreas Christensen, whom Sarri singled out for praise after the Brighton win.

Zola echoed that:

”I saw Antonio improving in many ways – the way he handles the ball, the way he is defending – so he will be missed. But we have already alternated the three defenders many times.”

“When Christensen played with Luiz, he’s done very well. He’s grown so much in security and confidence. [Rüdiger] will be missed, but the ones playing will do well.”

There’s even a chance of a rare call up for forgotten squad man Gary Cahill.

The probability is that Benfica rather than Eintracht Frankfurt await the winners in the semis before the possibility of a London derby final in faraway Baku in Azerbaijan, 2832 miles from London.


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