2018-19 EPL Match Day 12 Preview — Chelsea (8-3-0) vs. Everton (5-3-3)

It is an invisible albatross Everton have worn for nearly five years, yet the “0” that represents the number of Premier League road wins against “Big Six” clubs in that stretch weighs as heavily as the dead bird upon the mariner’s neck in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem.

Marco Silva and the Toffees hope to make Sunday the day the curse is finally lifted as they look to end a 30-match winless spell against the best of the top flight in a matchup with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Everton are 0-9-21 in their visits to Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and eternal rivals Liverpool since Bryan Oviedo struck in the 86th minute for a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford on Dec. 4, 2013. Following that triumph, the Toffees (5-3-3) have looked as idle as a painted ship more times than not, shipping 63 goals in those 30 matches with only 18 in response.

“I have confidence in our work, confidence in the way we are playing, seeing how our team is growing, playing better and getting better results,” Silva said at his Friday news conference. “Of course it will be tough. I accept Chelsea will be favourites. It will be a big challenge for us but what I hope and what I expect is that we are ourselves on the pitch.

“They will create problems for us but I want to see our team be ourselves, play in our way. In some moments they will create, but when we have the ball we have to be ourselves.”

Everton have failed in two bids this term to end the streak, losing 2-0 at the Emirates to Arsenal on Sept. 23, and more recently, 2-1 at Old Trafford on Sept. 28. There was a good south wind heading into that match – Everton had been unbeaten in four – and there is one albeit smaller once more following a 3-1 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend.

Richarlison continued his rich vein of goals since being moved to lead Everton’s line, scoring on either side of halftime. Right back Seamus Coleman showed he is fully recovered from the stress fracture that sidelined him four games earlier this season as well as the broken leg suffered representing Ireland in March 2017 with his first goal in 22 months, one that snapped a 1-1 deadlock in the second half.

“His physical condition is growing and it’s normal that his confidence is growing as well, not just because he scored the goal – even in the first half we had good combinations down the right side with him, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Theo Walcott,” Silva said of Coleman. “And, of course, in the second half when he scored it was an important moment for him and for sure it will give him good feelings and confidence.”

Confidence is something Everton have sorely lacked in their visits to Stamford Bridge, leaving southwest London without a victory in their last 23 tries (0-10-13) since their lone Premier League win – 1-0 on Nov. 26, 1994, thanks to a 39th-minute goal by Paul Rideout. The Toffees were cruelly denied an end to the streak in 2016, taking a lead in stoppage time only to have Blues talisman John Terry head home an equaliser in the 98th minute that should have been chalked off for offsides as the match finished 3-3.

Richarlison, though, is an injury doubt for this match and will be a game-time decision. If the Brasil international cannot go, Silva has either Cenk Tosun or Dominic Calvert-Lewin as options to lead the line.

The gaffer will be forced into one change since centre back Kurt Zouma is ineligible to face his parent club, with Silva to choose among Phil Jagielka, Mason Holgate and Yerry Mina to partner with Michael Keane. Mina, the Colombia international summer signing whose debut was delayed by a foot injury, made a late runout in the win over Brighton for his Premier League debut.

Chelsea (8-3-0) have climbed to second in the table, ahead of Liverpool on goal difference while trailing champions Manchester City by two points. The Blues return to domestic play after wrapping up first place in Group L of the Europa League with a 1-0 victory at BATE Borisov on Thursday.

Olivier Giroud broke his duck in the 52nd minute, heading home a cross from Emerson, and gave Maurizio Sarri the luxury of blooding some of the academy players for the final two matches of group play in the continental competition.

“I was hoping to score soon because I came back late from the World Cup and I was lacking maybe a bit of efficiency and luck, but you always need to keep working hard and keep the faith and that’s what happened,” the France international told the club’s official website. “It was a good cross from Emerson and that’s what we need to do more often.

“The manager kept saying we need to qualify from the group, and the earlier the better, so we’ve done the job even if we could have been more efficient. It’s a clean sheet and we won the game.”

Chelsea are still unbeaten since Sarri took over, recording 14 wins in 17 matches across all competitions. A win or draw here would set a Premier League record for the longest unbeaten start in a Premier League debut, a mark he shares with Frank Clark after he went 8-3-0 with Nottingham Forest in 1994-95 before losing at home to Blackburn Rovers.

Sarri once again overturned his entire back line in the victory at Belarus and gave Eden Hazard a start after the Belgium international had played just 26 minutes in Chelsea’s last two league matches due to a back injury. He also started Ross Barkley, which raises the question of whether Sarri will keep the former Everton player in his first XI for this match.

Barkley, who signed with the Everton at the age of 11, left the club in the January transfer window in a protracted saga – it was a £15 million transfer after the England international spurned a £35 million move on the final day of the August window – and Barkley is expecting to get some stick from Everton’s traveling supporters.

“I don’t think it (the reception) will be the best,” the midfielder admitted to the Evening Standard. “I was approaching 25 and I felt looking back I could have improved a lot more (at Everton). At Chelsea, I knew I’d improve a lot quicker around better players, around world-class players.

“I’m not nervous, I’m excited to play against my former club and teammates – I understand how some of them play, so that could be an advantage for me.”

Sarri is also expected to restore Alvaro Morata to his centre-forward role over Giroud, with the Spain international coming off a brace in last weekend’s victory over Crystal Palace that has given him three goals in his last two league contests.

Last season’s scoreless draw at Goodison Park in the most recent meeting ended a four-match winning streak for Chelsea in all competitions between the sides. The Pensioners are unbeaten in their last five (3-2-0) against the Toffees in league play since a 3-1 setback in 2015.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are solid favourites to at least emerge with a point to give Sarri the record of best Premier League start as the Pensioners are 2/5 to claim a victory and have 18/5 odds on splitting the points. Everton are listed at 6/1 for their first road victory over a Big Six opponent in nearly five years.

There is an expectation of goals in this match, as Chelsea are 19/20 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored, substantially shorter than 10/3 for under the 2.5 threshold. The Toffees are 10/1 longshots to win with more than 2.5 goals and 16/1 to win fashioning a score line of 0-1 or 0-2. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw holds a slight sway at 11/2, while a high-scoring stalemate has shorter odds at 12/1 than a low-scoring Everton win.

After seeing him emerge unscathed after an hour in Belarus, Hazard leads the line for first-goal honours at 10/3. Chelsea’s strikers Morata and Giroud, as is usually the case, are lumped together — here at 4/1. Wingers Pedro and Willian are another step back at 6/1, followed by Loftus-Cheek at 7/1. And for those who believe revenge can be best served by making it 1-0 against a former team, Barkley has 7/1 odds as well.

Richarlison’s iffy status means he and Cenk Tosun are joint 9/1 odds as Everton’s top options, with Calvert-Lewin just off the duo at 10/1. Sigurdsson, the Toffees’ penalty taker, is 11/1.

Hazard is even money to beat Pickford over the course of 90 minutes, with Morata and Giroud both at 23/20. There is another pairing of Pedro and Willian, this time at 9/5, and Barkley and Loftus-Cheek are listed at 21/10. Richarlison has some separation from Tosun here, with the Brasilian getting 13/5 compared to the Turk’s 11/4 odds. Calvert-Lewin has 3/1 odds on scoring while Sigurdsson lurks just behind at 16/5.

PREDICTION

Thirty matches is a long time without a landmark victory. These are the types of matches Silva was hired for, to get the leviathan who are Everton awake and contending for Champions League spots on an annual basis. At the same time, wow is their track record in these matches awful.

In the Premier League era, they are 16-43-94 on the road against Big Six teams. They have not won at the Emirates/Highbury, Stamford Bridge and Anfield in this century. They have not won at Tottenham this decade.

Nearly half of those wins — seven — have come against Manchester City, but not the Manchester City you and I know of this decade following the change in ownership to Sheikh Mansour. No, these were the aimless Citizens, ones that even suffered the humiliation of relegation while Everton have avoided such a fate.

This is the history stacked against Everton, one painful defeat on top of another on top of another. To their credit, both losses this year — at Arsenal and at United — the Toffees stood up to their opponents. It can be argued Everton were the better side at the Emirates, laying siege to Petr Cech and the Gunners goal before being undone by two goals three minutes apart, one of which should never have been allowed.

Against United, there was wastefulness in the finished product but plenty of fight as the Toffees could not find an equaliser after Sigurdsson’s penalty. The 2-1 scoreline was fair to the hosts but also a proper scoreline to the guests who showed effort and resolve.

Which brings us to Stamford Bridge, where it is almost the silver anniversary of Rideout’s goal that brought Everton’s lone Premier League success. There is hope upon hope Richarlison will be able to go, but if he does not, one hopes Silva is bold and tabs Calvert-Lewin over Tosun to lead the line. That boldness could extend to Mina for his first Premier League start, but that may also be rash given Chelsea’s attacking nous and Hazard’s unpredictability in attack.

With Barkley getting the start in Belarus, the sidebar of facing the team who raised and nurtured him is relegated to just that — an add-on to the story with his expected arrival around the hour. What he does with those 30 minutes may change that narrative from sidebar to central plot, but there are more important actors in this contest.

One is most certainly Richarlison, who hopefully will not give way to his understudy. Another is Sigurdsson, who has masterfully pulled strings in the midfield to help create chances. But do not discount Chelsea’s striker tandem of Morata and Giroud. The Spaniard is expected to start, with the Sarri logic of leaving him back in London to rest confounding the media to the point he mumbled to himself in agitation during the press conference. And should Morata fail, Giroud will have plenty of life after ending his duck in Belarus. His link-up play with Hazard is the real reason Mina should be on the bench to start this contest, his Premier League blooding can come another day.

This should be an entertaining contest with plenty of cat-and-mouse. Everton may not get that elusive victory, and a point may be within their grasp, but that only happens if Richarlison is on the pitch.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 2, Everton 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 12 EPL PREVIEWS:

Leicester City (5-1-5) vs. Burnley (2-2-7)
Huddersfield Town (1-3-7) vs. West Ham United (3-2-6)
Liverpool (8-3-0) vs. Fulham (1-2-8)
Manchester City (9-2-0) vs. Manchester United (6-2-3)

Europa League Match Day 4 Preview — BATE Borisov (1-0-2, 3, -3) vs. Chelsea (3-0-0, 9, +4)

Chelsea have a chance to wrap up the top spot in Group L of the Europa League on Thursday when they attempt a home-and-home sweep of BATE Borisov in Belarus.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Blues are still unbeaten under first-year manager Maurizio Sarri. In addition to grabbing the maximum nine points from their first three group matches, Chelsea are two points back of reigning champions Manchester City in the Premier League, in second place ahead of Liverpool on goal difference.

Sarri’s side, though, have had struggle finding goals in this competition with five goals in the three victories. The good news is they put three past the Tractor Boys at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago, trigging their current four-match winning streak in all competitions in which they have piled up 13 goals after pulling away for a 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace last Sunday.

Eden Hazard, who had been slowed by a back injury that resulted in a three-match absence, came off the bench versus Palace and made an immediate contribution after has introduction by assisting on Alvaro Morata’s tie-breaking goal on 65 minutes.

It was Hazard’s fourth overall assist and his third in league play coming off the bench. The Belgium international has logged just 36 minutes in Europa League play, but Sarri included him on the roster to make the 3,200-mile round trip with an eye on finishing off qualification for the knockout round. The Pensioners will claim group honours with a victory and a draw by Midi and PAOK in the other match.

“According to our doctor there is not any risk, otherwise he would have stayed at Cobham, of course,” Sarri told the club’s official website. “We felt that for him it’s better to play, not for 90 minutes, but to play after two weeks of not playing.

“In the last match he played only for 30 minutes. The best way for him is that tomorrow he will play for 45 or 50 minutes.”

Somewhat surprising is who did not make the trip in Morata and midfielder Cesc Fabregas. Morata appeared to turn a corner with his brace, giving him six goals in all competitions, but Sarri saw this as an opportune time to give the Spaniard a breather having played all but 16 minutes in Chelsea’s last three matches while Olivier Giroud dealt with a knock.

Fabregas has been waylaid by an illness, prompting N’Golo Kante to make the trip. But since that is not the like-for-like switch that Sarri prefers, it appears Jorginho will serve as midfield metronome for the 4-3-3.

“We are in a perfect mood,” left midfielder Mateo Kovacic said. “We are doing good in our league and we are doing good in all competitions so this team wants to play football, we enjoy it, and every game we have an opportunity to show ourselves, so tomorrow we will be prepared and give our best to win the game.

“We are still unbeaten and we have not played at our highest level. We are with the coach only three months and of course it needs time to understand completely and to work on his football. I think we are doing a great job and I am sure in every training and every game we will be better and better.”

Sarri’s pattern of rotating his entire back line appears set to continue as Emerson, Andreas Christensen, Gary Cahill and David Zappacosta are likely to feature in front of Kepa Arrizabalaga.

BATE, who have wrapped up their 13th consecutive domestic title, have won three on the bounce since their loss to Chelsea and are coming off a 1-0 victory over Neman Grodno on Sunday. Yevegniy Berezkin came off the bench in the 77th minute and scored the winner two minutes from time.

The Tractor Boys have lost their last two group matches after winning at Midi, and the seven goals shipped in those two defeats have left them at the bottom of Group L at the halfway point. BATE will be keen to contain Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who ran riot in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge and accounted for all of Chelsea’s offence in the 3-0 victory.

We have followed all the games Chelsea have played. Videoton played well, had plenty of chances and could have got a different result. They are an example for us,” BATE manager Alyaksey Baha told BT Sport. “We analyse the games (against Arsenal) so we learnt from our mistakes. Now, a year later we are here in England, in London, playing against a top club, and we hope for a better result this time.”

Chelsea have outshot opponents 73-15 through the first three matches of group play and have won six consecutive Europa League matches dating back to a loss to Ruben Kazan in 2013. BATE have just two wins in their last 15 Europa League matches (2-5-8) while shipping 33 goals.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are decided favourites to make the group a fait accompli with 4/11 odds to take home all three points. There are 15/4 odds for the teams to split the points, while hosts BATE are a 17/2 pick to pull off an upset and improve their chances of getting out of the group.

The Blues are almost even money to win with a result of more than 2.5 goals at 21/20, while a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline — they posted a 0-1 result at PAOK in their other group play contest on the road — has a 5/2 return. The odds of a deadlock at 0-0 and 1-1 are 15/4, while BATE has 16/1 odds for a victory on either side of the 2.5 threshold.

Oddsmakers have listed nine Chelsea players and the “no goal-scorer” ahead of BATE’s top option for the first goal of the match. Eden Hazard leads the line at 16/5, while Chelsea’s strikers Morata and Olivier Giroud are joint-second at 7/2. Willian follows at 9/2, edging out Callum Hudson-Odoi and fellow winger Pedro (5/1). Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek lurk slightly further back at 6/1. The top picks for BATE are Nikolai Signevich and Igor Stasevich at 12/1.

No one on Chelsea is better than even money to score, though Hazard (21/2), Morata and Giroud (both 23/20) are close. Willian is also a favourite among the oddsmakers at 8/5 while Hudson-Odoi and Pedro (both 7/4) and Loftus-Cheek and Barkley (19/10) also have shorter odds than 2/1. Signevich (7/2) edges out Stasevich (4/1) for the top BATE option to put one in the back of the net.

PREDICTION

One of the more interesting things about Chelsea is that they are as capable of grinding down opponents for a 1-0 victory or cruising by them 3-0. This match has the feel of the former given Chelsea’s previous road exploits in group play and the fact Sarri has committed to rotating his players more consistently, evidenced by changing over his back line and finding a way to get Loftus-Cheek involved.

By bringing Kante for Fabregas, it is possible the midfield could be Loftus-Cheek, Kovacic and Kante from left to right. Regardless of the trio, the primary task besides scoring must be to get Olivier Giroud involved in his return. The France international has four assists, tied for the most among Chelsea players — but has yet to open his scoring account.

The fact Chelsea have gone 16 matches without a loss and without a goal from Giroud is a testament not only to the talent the Pensioners have but also just how well they have taken to Sarri’s tactics and how well he has quickly figured out this squad.

Hazard likely will not become a factor in this match until the hour mark, unless Chelsea are trailing at the interval, and then the 45-minute estimation Sarri offered would come into play. Otherwise, this reeks of a blue-collar match in which Chelsea will control the ball similar to the 60 percent possession they had at Stamford Bridge. It would seem less likely Loftus-Cheek will strike for another hat trick, but one goal could be enough to see off the Tractor Boys.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: BATE Borisov 0, Chelsea 1.

OTHER EUROPA LEAGUE MATCH DAY 4 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (3-0-0, 9, +6) vs. Sporting CP (2-0-1, 6, +2)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 11 Preview — Chelsea (7-3-0) vs. Crystal Palace (2-2-6)

After a curiously ragged Carabao Cup victory, Chelsea look to continue their unbeaten ways Sunday when they host Crystal Palace in a London derby at Stamford Bridge.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Blues (7-3-0) have yet to lose under first-year manager Maurizio Sarri, also winning three Europa League matches and two in the Carabao Cup following a 3-2 victory Wednesday over former Chelsea star-turned coach Frank Lampard and Derby County – who used a pair of Chelsea players on loan after consent from the top-flight side.

Chelsea won despite scoring just one goal themselves as Derby gifted the Pensioners a pair of own goals inside the opening half-hour – goals they canceled out with quick responses on both occasions.

Cesc Fabregas scored what proved to be the match-winner in the 41st minute as Chelsea claimed a spot in the round of eight opposite Bournemouth. While some of the defensive issues can be chalked up to swapping out his entire back line as part of eight changes from their 4-0 waxing of Burnley last weekend, Sarri wants things fixed now before the problems grow.

“In the last match I have to say Derby played a very good match,” Sarri told Chelsea’s official website. “We played well in the offensive phase, but a lot of mistakes in the defensive phase. It’s clear we need to improve.

“I am used to having problems like this in the first months. In Burnley I saw a very good performance in the defensive phase. Three days after I saw a lot of mistakes. It means we are a not a continuously solid team at the moment. It’s dangerous.”

With a win or draw, Sarri would match Frank Clark’s Premier League record for an unbeaten start. Clark opened 8-3-0 with a promoted Nottingham Forest side in 1994-95 en route to a third-place finish.

One issue Sarri must contend with is the status of star winger Eden Hazard. The Belgium international did not play against Burnley due to a back injury, and Sarri revealed he practiced for the first time in two weeks in training ahead of this match. The gaffer said Hazard would be “able to play for 40, 45 minutes,” which implies he would be on the bench to start this game and be called upon if needed.

That likely means Willian will switch flanks to take Hazard’s spot on the left, with Pedro expected to return after lasting just a half-hour against Burnley due to stomach issues. With Ross Barkley in splendid form – he has three goals and two assists in his last four matches – he likely gets the nod at left midfield over Mateo Kovacic.

Fellow midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace, likely will be in the mix for the 18 again, but also of note Friday was Sarri ruling out a potential loan for the England international in the January window, noting “Ruben in October played four matches out of five. I think at the moment the situation is not for a loan of course. He has improved, but he needs to improve more from the tactical point of view.”

Crystal Palace (2-2-6) have sorely missed Loftus-Cheek’s industry through the midfield as they have now gone 395 minutes without a goal in the run of play after losing 1-0 at Championship side Middlesbrough – coached by one-time Palace boss Tony Pulis — on Wednesday in the round of 16 in the Carabao Cup.

Roy Hodgson made eight changes to the side that battled to a 2-2 draw versus Arsenal last weekend, getting both goals from the spot via Luka Milivojevic, but the decision to hold out Wilfried Zaha to rest ahead of this match backfired as the Eagles again were grounded in attack.

“Of course it’s a missed opportunity,” Hodgson told The Times while lamenting his side’s poor first half, “but you have to use these competitions. You have a squad of players and you have to give them the chance to play. A lot of them needed a game and none of them let me down at all.”

In addition to holding out Zaha, midfielders James McArthur and Cheikou Kouyate also did not make the trip to Middlesbrough to recover from niggling injuries. Forward Connor Wickham, however, has been ruled out with a thigh injury a fortnight after making his first league appearance in nearly two seasons with a late runout against Everton.

Palace’s last goal in the run of play came from left back Patrick Van Aanholt in their 2-1 loss at Bournemouth on Oct. 1. Zaha has not scored in five league matches dating to his winner versus Huddersfield Town on Sept. 15.

Though Loftus-Cheek could not play against his parent club last season per loan rules, Crystal Palace did split the two matches that finished with 2-1 scorelines. In the fixture at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea got their goals seven minutes apart through Willian and an own goal from Palace defender Martin Kelly.

Van Aanholt pulled one back at the death for the Eagles, who won in their previous two visits to west London. Chelsea are 12-2-4 versus Palace in the Premier League era, including a 6-1-2 mark at home.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Hazard’s iffy status has not deterred oddsmakers from making Chelsea prohibitive favourites with 2/7 odds. The Blues have 9/2 odds to claim at least one point from this contest, while Palace are 10/1 underdogs to claim a third win in four seasons at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea are better than even money to win with a final of more than 2.5 goals at 4/5, while the Pensioners are also a 14/5 pick to win by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline. There are 6/1 odds on a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, while the Eagles are 18/1 to win with more than 2.5 goals and 22/1 to post a clean sheet while winning by one or two.

Hazard still leads the line for first goal-scorers despite his status, checking in at 16/5 odds. Chelsea’s alternating strikers — Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud — are directly behind the Belgian at 10/3. Wingers Pedro and Willian are 5/1 picks to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, with Barkley a 6/1 selection and Loftus-Cheek 13/2 to score against the team he was loaned out to last term. Zaha is Palace’s top choice at 12/1 for a 0-1 shock scoreline, while Alexander Sorloth and Jordan Ayew are both 16/1.

Hazard is better than even money to score during the match, getting 10/11 odds, and Pedro and Willian are both 6/4 picks to put one past Wayne Hennessey. Morata and Giroud are even money to bag one for Chelsea, while Zaha has 10/3 odds to break his duck for Crystal Palace. As Palace’s penalty taker, Milivojevic offers an intriguing 7/1 return.

PREDICTION

There are two areas of intrigue for this match. One is whether Sarri starts Hazard and tries to put the game to bed early, and the second being whether the Italian has a sentimental streak and starts Loftus-Cheek over Barkley and/or Kovacic in left midfield against his former team. Given his comments about Loftus-Cheek when asked about the possibility of a January loan, it does not seem likely, but since nearly everything Sarri has touched has turned to gold thus far, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

It would be surprising to see Hazard in the first XI given he just returned to practice this week after missing two weeks’ worth. Sarri has enough attacking options at his disposal that he has the luxury of bringing the Belgium international off the bench, but since Chelsea are also all but assured of reaching the Europa League knockout round, he can also give Hazard another week off if his side take care of business in the first hour of this contest.

With Olivier Giroud held out of the Derby County match due to fatigue, it would not be surprising to see him get the start over Morata, though the Spaniard has the better form of the two pure strikers. Given Palace play a deep back four, Giroud’s hold-up and knock-down abilities make the France international a better tactical choice for Sarri as Giroud again looks for his first goal of the season.

In their two matches against “Big Six” sides, Palace held their own in a 2-0 loss to Liverpool that was closer than the scoreline indicates and last weekend’s 2-2 draw versus Arsenal. Both matches, though, came at home, and while Hodgson’s team have gotten better results outside Selhurst Park than in it this campaign, Palace’s lack of form offensively coupled with a decided disadvantage in talent in the midfield means Chelsea should stroll to three points in this contest.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 3, Crystal Palace 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 11 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (7-1-2) vs. Liverpool (8-2-0)
Wolverhampton (4-3-3) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-3)
Bournemouth (6-2-2) vs. Manchester United (5-2-3)
Newcastle United (0-3-7) vs. Watford (6-1-3)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 10 Preview — Burnley (2-2-5) vs. Chelsea (6-3-0)

Ruben Loftus-Cheek certainly caught Maurizio Sarri’s attention with his three-goal outburst in Europa League play. Yet the only way to win playing time under the Italian is to pay the same attention to deal defensively as Chelsea look to remain unbeaten on the season Sunday when they face Burnley at Turf Moor.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Fairly or unfairly, high hopes were pinned on Loftus-Cheek following England’s run to the World Cup semifinals this summer, when the 22-year-old showed plenty of promise and industry as a bustling midfielder with physical presence. He displayed flashes of that potential as a full-time starter on loan last season at Crystal Palace, who he helped overcame a dreadful start to a mid-table finish in the Premier League.

In his first season at Stamford Bridge, Sarri wanted to keep Loftus-Cheek at Chelsea (6-3-0), but he became surplus to goods to a degree with the arrival of Mateo Kovacic on loan from Real Madrid in the deal that sent keeper Thibaut Courtois to the reigning three-time Champions League winners.

Loftus-Cheek was also set back by injuries in the early part of the season, but he has been frustrated at dropping below both Kovacic and compatriot Ross Barkley in the pecking order at left midfield while playing just 99 minutes in all competitions heading into Thursday’s match versus BATE Borisov.

But for one glorious hour, all those frustrations washed away as Loftus-Cheek became the first Chelsea player in 12 years to strike for a hat trick in European competition, powering the Pensioners to a 3-1 victory that gave them a firm grip atop Group L. He scored twice in the first eight minutes before being gifted a soft third by BATE keeper Denis Scherbitski and also became the first English-born player to score three goals in a European contest since Peter Osgood and Tommy Baldwin combined for eight goals against Jeunesse Hautcharage in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1971.

“He played very, very well,” Sarri told Chelsea’s official website. “In the offensive phase, wonderful. I thought before, from the beginning of the season, he was really a very good player.

“Now I think the same, but I think maybe also he is more suitable to my football. He is improving. He also needs to improve in the defensive phase, but not only Loftus.”

Overall, Sarri made eight changes to the XI that drew Manchester United 2-2 last weekend, and he understands the affection the club and supporters have for Loftus-Cheek, who has come through the team’s academy. But the first-year manager was in constant communication with the midfielder during the match making sure he was positioned correctly on defence, and grasping those concepts may be the only way Loftus-Cheek cracks the league lineup or the match day 18.

“I know the fans love him, of course, because he was in the Academy. That’s normal,” Sarri noted. “It is very difficult to solve the tactical problem without an improvement in the defensive phase of these three midfielders. We can try, but we need to work and I need the cooperation of the players.”

Chelsea enter this match third in the table, ahead of London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal on goal difference while trailing reigning champions Manchester City and Liverpool on goal difference. Staying unbeaten, though, could be challenging if star winger Eden Hazard – who has a team-high eight goals in all competitions – is unable to play. Sarri held him out of Thursday’s match with a back injury, and the Belgium likely will be a match-time decision for this contest.

If Hazard is unable to play, Willian will likely replace him on the left wing as he did Thursday on the attacking line with Spaniards Alvaro Morata and Pedro. Centre-forward Olivier Giroud failed to distinguish himself Thursday, which means Morata is all but certain to lead the line as Sarri has been playing the hot hand at that position.

Burnley (2-2-5) can no longer use the Europa League preliminary rounds hangover as an excuse for their wildly inconsistent play as they try to re-discover the form that fueled their seventh-place finish last term. The Clarets’ bid to extend their unbeaten streak to four matches in league play was roundly swatted by Manchester City, who put them to the sword by a 5-0 count at the Etihad last weekend.

Sean Dyche’s team was competitive in the first half and trailed 1-0 at the interval, but goals two minutes apart by Bernado Silva and Fernandinho early in the second turned the final half-hour into a training ground exercise for the champions, who ruined Burnley keeper Joe Hart’s return to the City grounds as an opponent for the first time after a decade of service with the team.

“The feeling of frustration is a not nice one,” said Hart, who made 348 appearances for City before joining Burnley in the summer, to the club’s official website. “I appreciated the reception, but I came here as a Burnley player and the only thing I cared about was trying to get a result for us, so it wasn’t the perfect day.”

The good news for Burnley is they are closer to resembling the full-strength side that performed so well last term to earn European play. Steven Defour saw his first action last weekend after missing nine months due to injury, while midfielder and Ireland international Robbie Brady could be among the 18 for this contest after being sidelined nearly 10 months.

“It’s great to see Steve back,” forward Sam Vokes said. “He’s been a huge player for us over the last few years and I think we’ve missed him. He had some hard luck with that injury and to see him back playing in the Premier League is definitely good news.

“Robbie has done well for us in the past, as well, and had that terrible injury last Christmas time … those two lads will just add to the competition in the squad at the minute.”

Burnley have a win and a draw in their four matches at Turf Moor, but four of their six goals came in their waxing of Bournemouth last month.

The road team won both matches last season, with the Clarets pulling off a shock 3-2 scoreline over the 10-man Pensioners on the first match day to ruin the start of their title defence. Vokes had a first-half brace around a goal by Stephen Ward before Burnley saw off a furious late rally.

Chelsea returned the favour with a 2-1 victory at Turf Moor in April, with Victor Moses’ goal on 69 minutes proving to be decisive. They are 5-2-1 in Premier League matches versus the Clares.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are prohibitive favourites to take all three points with 1/3 odds, and there are 15/4 odds on the teams leaving the Turf Moor pitch with a point apiece. The odds of Burnley claiming all three points and taking a huge step towards the middle of the table are 17/2.

Chelsea have 21/20 odds to win the match with more than 2.5 goals scored, which seems reasonable considering Man City put five past Hart at the Etihad. The Pensioners are also a 12/5 pick to win by either a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline. Burnley have 16/1 odds to win on either side of the 2.5 goals threshold, while a 0-0 or 1-1 draw is listed at 19/4.

Despite his uncertain status, Hazard still leads the line for options among first goal-scorers at 16/5, nudging out Morata and Giroud at 7/2. Chelsea’s other wingers — Pedro and Willian — are joint-fourth at 11/2, with Barkley 15/2. Burnley forwards Vokes and Chris Wood are the top options to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, with both listed at 10/1.

Hazard is just above even money to score over the course of the 90 minutes at 21/20, closely trailed again by his centre-forwards at 6/5. Pedro and Willian are again paired together, this time at 9/5, while Barkley has 12/5 odds at putting one past Hart. Vokes edges out Wood for Burnley’s top any-time option at 3/1, just ahead of Wood’s 16/5 listing.

PREDICTION

If there was one match where Sarri could afford to at least not start Hazard as a precautionary measure, it would be this one. Whether it be Moses, Willian or even Callum Hudson-Odoi replacing the Belgium international, the Italian has made Chelsea a well-oiled machine currently good enough to at least compensate for Hazard’s absence as a one-off ahead of a busy stretch of schedule that includes a Carabao Cup tie and a trip to BATE.

Of course, Hazard is probably campaigning to be included in the XI given how much he has come to enjoy playing Sarri-ball, but the manager has the depth at Hazard’s position to be judicious and also the luxury of bringing a well-rested back four that into this match after they were given Thursday night off. The combination of Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz should be enough to see off the challenge of Vokes or potentially Chris Wood.

It also would not be surprising to see Barkley selected over Kovacic given the latter played against BATE.

Burnley continue to confound. There is almost this expectation every week that “this is the match they get it right,” then everyone is flummoxed by the result like the one that happened versus City. Granted, most teams outside the “Big Six” have the potential to be caught in the avalanche that is Manchester City’s offence on any given match day, but it was still surprising to see the Clarets deflate after that second goal, controversial or not.

Burnley had played better prior to that beatdown, but they will get no favours here from Chelsea. The Pensioners are an improved offensive team compared to last year’s two matches under predecessor Antonio Conte, and the sides who play systems — save their rout of Bournemouth — have given the Clarets trouble all season.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Burnley 0, Chelsea 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 10 PREVIEWS:

Brighton and Hove Albion (3-2-4) vs. Wolverhampton (4-3-2)
Southampton (1-3-5) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-7)
Manchester United (4-2-3) vs. Everton (4-3-2)
Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-2) vs. Manchester City (7-2-0)

Europa League Match Day 3 Preview — Chelsea (2-0-0, 6, +2) vs. BATE (1-0-1, 3, -1)

Chelsea’s bid to extend their lead atop Group L of the Europa League on Thursday against BATE will be made without Eden Hazard as the Belgium superstar has been ruled out of this contest with a back injury.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Blues have gained the maximum six points through two matches by way of the narrowest scoreline possible, posting 1-0 victories over PAOK and MOL Vidi. Maurizio Sarri is expecting another such challenge from BATE, who are bearing down on their 13th consecutive Belorussian Premier League title as they have a nine-point lead with five league matches remaining.

“In Europe everything is difficult,’ Sarri said at Thursday’s news conference. “The other two games were not easy, so we have to prepare our minds to play another difficult match because this opponent during the season has lost only four times I think and for them the season is going to finish soon. This season they have done better away than at home, so it is not easy.”

Chelsea remained unbeaten in all competitions under their first-year manager but just barely, as Ross Barkley’s goal in the 95th minute Saturday salvaged a 2-2 draw against Manchester United. Antonio Rudiger had the other goal, getting free in space to head home a corner from Willian in the 21st minute. The Blues, though, struggled to cope with a more aggressive United in the second 45 minutes in which Sarri felt his team “lost control of the match” in the final half-hour by straying from the style that has gotten them to third in the table, two points behind Manchester City and Liverpool.

While much has been made of Sarri’s decision to field lineups primarily with senior players not seeing regular Premier League time as opposed to blooding the youth of Chelsea’s academy, this may be a match where Sarri’s decision to go in that direction requires those players at the bottom of the 18-man roster on Premier League matchdays to step forward.

Sarri has ruled out both Hazard and playmaker Jorginho. The former has a back injury, while the latter is being rested after featuring in both matches during international duty for Italy before logging the full match versus United.

‘This match is not a big problem, because we have to play five days after the last match,” Sarri explained in his Wednesday news conference. “The problem will be on Sunday as we have to play after 65 hours, so we need to change something. We need to think and be careful. For instance Jorginho needs to rest now as he played two 90 minutes in two match for the Italy national team and then nearly 100 minutes in our last game, so it is time to rest for him.

“(Thursday) Eden Hazard is out for sure. He has a back problem. We are trying to solve the problem for Sunday, I think it is not very easy, and the other one out is Ethan Ampadu because of a knee injury. That was suffered on international duty with Wales.”

It appears Sarri will turn over his entire back line as Emerson, Andreas Christensen, Gary Cahill and Davide Zappacosta are all in line for a start, though regular left back Marcos Alonso made news Wednesday by putting pen to paper on a five-year extension to stay at Stamford Bridge through 2023.

Jorginho’s absence means Cesc Fabregas will be pulling the strings in the midfield, while midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek is healthy and could see his first action for Chelsea since Sept. 12.

Up front, either Willian or Victor Moses is expected to slot into Hazard’s spot on the left, and Olivier Giroud likely will lead the line as Sarri continues to vacillate between the France international and Alvaro Morata depending on who has the better form for league play.

Morata and Willian have Chelsea’s Europa League goals, while keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has needed to make just four saves for his two clean sheets.

BATE have split their first two group matches, winning 2-0 at MOL Vidi before being overrun 4-1 at home by Greek side PAOK earlier this month. The Tractor Boys avoided a third consecutive loss in all competitions Saturday, edging Gorodeya 3-2 at home. Maksim Skavysh rescued the win for BATE in the 86th minute after they had squandered a 2-0 lead built on goals by Hervaine Mekontso and Nikolai Sihnevich on either side of halftime.

While BATE prefer to use a 4-3-3 formation, it is more likely they will morph into a 4-5-1 in an attempt to stifle Chelsea’s movement. Skavysh and Igor Stasevich share the team lead with seven goals in all competitions, with Nikolai Signevich and Mirko Ivanic contributing six apiece.

BATE are well aware of the presence Giroud brings in the penalty area as the centre-forward scored in both Europa League group matches against them last season playing for Arsenal. The Tractor Boys were given a drumming in their last visit to London as the Gunners smashed six by them without reply in a dead rubber to complete group play.

Their only other match in England was a 1-0 victory at Everton in group play in 2009-10.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are decisive favourites to retain their 100 percent Europa League record with 2/15 odds for a victory. The odds of a draw are 7/1, while BATE are 22/1 longshots to claim their first win in England in nine years.

Despite their narrow victories to open group play, oddsmakers are still expecting Chelsea to score goals in this contest. They have 4/7 odds to post a victory while scoring more than 2.5 goals, while a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline checks in with 12/5 odds. A split of the points via a 0-0 or 1-1 final has 17/2 odds, while victories for BATE offer a 45/1 return for under 2.5 goals and 50/1 over that threshold.

Almost all of Chelsea’s expected roster are expected to score the first goal of the match, led by strikers Morata (13/5) and Giroud (14/5). Pedro, Willian, and Callum Hudson-Odoi are all joint-third at 9/2, with Victor Moses (5/1) and Barkley (13/2) rounding out the top seven to make it 1-0. BATE’s top options to create a 0-1 scoreline are Signevich and Jasse Touminen at 18/1, which is slightly longer than there being no goal-scorer in the match (16/1).

Oddsmaker expect a Chelsea striker to score as both Morata (4/6) and Giroud (3/4) are better than even money selections. Pedro and Willian are just off that pace — both have 5/4 odds to find the back of the net — while Hudson-Odoi (11/8), Moses (6/4) and Barkley (15/8) are all better than 2/1 choices.

For the Tractor Boys, Tumoinen and Signevich are joint top-options at 5/1, with Moukam and Mikhail Gordejchuk just behind them at 11/2.

PREDICTION

It is unfair to label Sarri’s decision to hold out both Hazard and Jorginho “a risk,” especially with Hazard dealing with a back issue, but the moves fairly raise the question of how Chelsea maintain their continuity and rhythm offensively without their metronome (Jorginho) and impresario (Hazard).

In theory, there should not be much fall-off in the former because Fabregas is fully capable of directing an offence, and the Pensions should see a lion’s share of the possession that takes full advantage of his passing strengths to thread creases in BATE’s lines. It is the movement and nous of Hazard in the final third where it could take time for Chelsea to unlock the final third — they will undoubtedly have industry in Giroud, and it may be a case where Chelsea go outside-in from the flanks to wreak havoc and wear down BATE by way of crosses pumped into the box to earn corners and then score via set pieces.

The other expected decision to replace the entire back four is also an intriguing one, but it is also one that makes sense given Cahill is the only one who has played with the first-team back line as an injury replacement, and that was all for 21 minutes. Sometimes defenders work better in units, and the projected back four for this match gets a chance to prove that for a second straight contest.

BATE will have some confidence gleaned from their road victory at VOL Midi — they ended a 12-match road winless streak (0-2-10) in European competitions — but the Tractor Boys will likely get plowed here by a Chelsea side that should win their first three group matches in European competitions for the first time since the 2010-11 Champions League.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 2, BATE 0.

OTHER EUROPA LEAGUE MATCH DAY 3 PREVIEWS:

Sporting CP (2-0-0) vs. Arsenal (2-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 9 Preview — Chelsea (6-2-0) vs. Manchester United (4-1-3)

Jose Mourinho has yet to have a happy homecoming at Stamford Bridge since taking over Manchester United.

Another loss there to Chelsea on Saturday, however, could hasten the potential exit of “The Special One” from Old Trafford as he continues to battle the third-season woes.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Mourinho has lost all three matches in South West London since taking over United (4-1-3) in 2016, watching his team get outscored 6-0 in a pair of league defeats around a quarterfinal exit in the 2017 FA Cup. The fourth and most recent defeat to his former employers in six matches with United came last spring in the FA Cup final at Wembley, denying him a second trophy since arriving on the red side of Manchester.

The term has been a slog thus far for both Mourinho and United, who have yet to find a higher gear on the pitch, which in turn has exacerbated tensions between manager and players off it. The Red Devils enter this contest in eighth place, seven points adrift of reigning champions and eternal rivals Manchester City as well as Liverpool and Chelsea.

Even during the international break, United were not drama-free as Mourinho was charged by the FA on Tuesday for using abusive, insulting or improper language. The United boss was filmed mouthing words at a camera after his team’s dramatic 3-2 victory over Newcastle United on Oct. 6, with the FA alleging he swore in Spanish.

The possible target of his rant has a list of suspects as the day is long, but ex-United midfielder-turned-pundit Paul Scholes again refused to shy away from criticising Mourinho, launching another broadside in an interview with ESPN.

“I feel like people at Liverpool and Manchester City are looking at us and laughing like we did at them many years ago,” Scholes said. “If you look across the road, they’re doing everything right.

“It feels like every player who comes into the team struggles. I feel like we could sign Lionel Messi at the moment and he’d struggle in this team. The reason we finished second last year was because of (David De Gea) the goalkeeper.”

Mourinho has until Friday to answer the charge, which could result in either a touchline ban or a fine, though he could also delay the ruling if he waits until the 6 p.m. local deadline to accept or deny the charge. In that case, he would be all but certain to be on the sideline for this contest.

United’s lineup continues to be in a state of flux outside De Gea as form coming out of the international break could provide separation for starting spots. Marcus Rashford impressed for England in UEFA Nations League play, scoring for the third time in four international matches and adding an assist in Monday’s 3-2 victory over Spain.

There were points against Newcastle when Rashford and Romelu Lukaku swapped spots leading the line – Rashford in the central role and Lukaku on the wing – but whether Mourinho commits to that switch or gives the two freedom to interchange while either Alexis Sanchez or Anthony Martial operate on the left is anyone’s guess.

Ex-Chelsea and current United holding midfielder Nemanja Matic made a quick return to Carrington after suffering a back injury that prevented him from representing Serbia. Left back Luke Shaw is also an injury concern, skipping a call-up to the Three Lions due to an ankle injury suffered in the win over Newcastle.

Shaw, though, put pen to paper on an extension to keep him at Old Trafford through 2023, and Mourinho – who put the defender through the wringer prior to him pushing on through to be one of United’s best players thus far – extolled the England international’s virtues.

“Luke fully deserves this contract,” Mourinho said Thursday. “He understood his development process, he has worked really hard at every level and he always believes in himself which is a great attribute to have.

“Luke is still young and is improving all the time and he must feel very proud of himself. I am delighted that we are keeping such a talented young English player with a bright future ahead of him.”

Mourinho can only hope Paul Pogba’s backheel pass that set up Martial’s equaliser against the Magpies will be the start of the France international’s resurgence to the lofty heights achieved in winning the World Cup this summer. Mourinho and the midfielder have been at loggerheads from nearly the moment Pogba returned to training, and rumours regarding his potential departure continue to swirl around United.

Pogba has factored in four of United’s 13 goals in league play – scoring both his goals via penalties — but had a brace and an assist in their Champions League win over Young Boys last month.

As Manchester United lurch from crisis to crisis real and created, things are going well in Maurizio Sarri’s first season at Chelsea (6-2-0), who are bookended by Manchester City and Liverpool atop the table on goal difference. Of course, having the best player in the Premier League at the moment in Eden Hazard goes a long way to having a happy vibe, and the Belgium international has made the most his new-found freedom in Sarri-ball.

Hazard has a league-best seven goals and eight overall, thriving on the left wing of Chelsea’s 4-3-3 formation and forming solid interplay with centre-forward Olivier Giroud, who has a team-leading four assists. Sarri has a defined rotation – much to the chagrin of midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the England international who cannot find consistent league playing time and may move on in January – as the Blues navigate a three-course track in the Carabao Cup and Europa League in addition to domestic duty.

One player who has surprisingly made an impact is midfielder Ross Barkley, whose improved play under Sarri’s tutelage has him neck-and-neck with Mateo Kovacic as a starter in left midfield.

Oft-injured and forgotten by the time his tenure at Everton ended in January, Barkley turned in a standout performance in the international break for England, highlighted by their 3-2 win over Spain, and club teammate Marcos Alonso was quick to give Barkley his due after his Roja side fell to defeat.

“Even at the World Cup England, despite playing well, were aware that they didn’t really have that kind of player, someone in the middle who played and made others play, who used the ball,” the left back noted to Chelsea’s official website. “He’s a great player. He showed it not just last night but against Croatia (last Friday) too. He showed that he can be a great player. I hope he keeps improving and that he helps us at Chelsea to stay near the top.”

With no injuries to report from the international break, Chelsea’s lineup will come down to Sarri’s decision-making up front with either Pedro or Willian on the right wing, Barkley or Kovacic in left midfield, and Giroud or Alvaro Morata leading the line.

Morata’s thunderous header in the 55th minute separated the sides in last season’s clash at Stamford Bridge, the Spain international drilling an inch-perfect cross from Cesar Azpilicueta into the upper right corner of the net.

Chelsea are unbeaten in their last eight at home (7-1-0) versus Manchester United in all competitions dating to a 3-2 loss Oct. 28, 2012. United have gone 299 minutes without a goal at Stamford Bridge since Jesse Lingard helped them to a 1-1 draw on Feb. 7, 2016.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are prohibitive 7/10 favourites, with United 15/4 underdogs. The odds of the teams splitting the points are slightly shorter than a road victory for Mourinho, landing at 11/4.

Oddsmakers are expecting goals in this match, as a Chelsea victory with a count over 2.5 goals leads the list of options at 31/20. A Blues victory under 2.5 goals will provide a 10/3 return, slightly ahead of a low-scoring draw at 4/1. For those who fancy United, they have 13/2 odds on a win with more than 2.5 goals and 9/1 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 win.

For the first goal-scorer of the match, Morata, Hazard and Giroud are all joint-favourites at 4/1, with Pedro behind the trio at 6/1. Willian, who often interchanges with Pedro, is right behind him at 13/2, and is followed by Lukaku as United’s top option at 7/1. Rashford is the second-rated United option at 17/2.

Morata and Giroud narrowly edge out Hazard as favourites for any-time goal scorers, getting 11/8 odds compared to Hazard’s 13/10. Pedro has 2/1 odds, again edging out Willian (21/10), while Lukaku (12/5) and Rashford (14/5) flank Chelsea’s Victor Moses (13/5).

PREDICTION

To park the bus or not to park the bus? That is the question facing Mourinho as he makes another trek to his former stomping grounds. Last season, he let United play open for most of the match at Stamford Bridge, a curious contrast to the FA Cup final in the last meeting between the teams in which the Mancunians conceded a penalty to Hazard and could not muster much offence without the injured Lukaku.

United’s form means there is little time for sentimentality for Mourinho, who offered a prickly reminder to the media earlier this season his three Premier League titles won at Chelsea are more than the other current 19 managers combined, saying Friday:

“For me, it’s another game. Would I celebrate like crazy, my team’s goal at Stamford Bridge or my team’s victory at Stamford Bridge? I don’t think so. I think I would try always to control myself and to respect the stadium and the supporters who were my supporters and [what was] my stadium for many years.

“So I think that I would always think about where I am, which stadium I am [in], which crowd is in the stands, but just that. Apart from that, it is just another match for me. It is a match that I want to do well in, for my players, my team, for my supporters – that’s what I want. I am 100 per cent Manchester United tomorrow [Saturday], but there is no space for anything more than respect for the stadium and for the fans that were my fans before.“

There is a chance Chelsea could have another high-quality thriller like their two previous contests with Liverpool, just like there is a chance Mourinho sets up to play for the point and take his chances on the counter. But United’s first order of business is finding a central defence partner with Chris Smalling, whether it be Victor Lindelof or Eric Bailly, and how their spine may slump depending on the fitness of Matic and Marouane Fellaini.

United’s dramatic win over Newcastle came at the best time and the worst time. It came at the best time because they could feel good about themselves for two weeks after pulling out three points from a match they had no business getting any for the first 70 minutes, but it came at the worst time because they could not immediately build on the momentum of this win.

On the other side, things appear to be well with Chelsea as everyone appeared to have a productive international break across Europe, and more importantly, no one got hurt. The 4-3-3 machine will wind up once more, with Sarri’s personnel choices the talking points more than the players, though Hazard is in arguably the best form of his club career.

Antonio Rudiger is a question mark due to a groin injury, but Andreas Christensen played well in the FA Cup final win over Manchester United, and there should not be much fall-off in central defence if he has to partner with David Luiz as the German’s replacement.

It will be curious to see if Barkley again gets the nod over Kovacic after his solid play for England during the break. It is a sign of how well Sarri’s system has taken at Chelsea he is almost at the point of plugging and playing personnel at spots in the Premier League compared to his preference of horses for courses with Giroud and Morata in Europa League.

This will not be an easy contest by any stretch of the imagination, but the track record of Mourinho being on the defensive against the Premier League’s best on the road will finally going bite him here. There does not appear to be enough in United’s spine to keep Chelsea off the scoreboard for 90 minutes unless De Gea turns in his best match of the season, and the Blues midfield might be able to boss this match through Jorginho and Kante’s two-way work.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: CHELSEA 1, Manchester United 0

OTHER MATCH DAY 9 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City (6-2-0) vs. Burnley (2-2-4)
West Ham United (2-1-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (6-0-2)
Wolverhampton (4-3-1) vs. Watford (4-1-3)
Arsenal (6-0-2) vs. Leicester City (4-0-4)

Europa League Match Day 2 Preview: Chelsea (1-0-0, +1, 1-0) vs. MOL Vidi FC (0-0-1, -2, 0-2)

After a highly productive week in which Chelsea proved themselves worthy of being counted among the Premier League title contenders, Maurizio Sarri’s team look to keep the good times rolling Thursday when they host Hungarian side MOL Vidi FC at Stamford Bridge.

POTENTIAL XIs

Chelsea enjoyed a blazing start under Sarri, winning their first six matches in all competitions that included a workmanlike 1-0 victory at Greek side PAOK. But some doubts were raised after a dour 0-0 draw at West Ham United in which the Blues’ 4-3-3 attack was largely stymied by a disciplined Irons side in two banks of four.

Some could argue West Ham deserved a victory and let Chelsea off the hook when Andriy Yarmolenko missed a sitter of a header late. The competition level ramped up again with a pair of matches against Champions League runners-up Liverpool, one in the Carabao Cup and another in league play in which the full depth of Sarri’s squad would be tested.

In the Carabao Cup, Chelsea ended Liverpool’s 100 percent run with a 2-1 victory at Anfield, with Eden Hazard providing the razor-thin margin of separation with a jaw-dropping individual effort for the match-winner on 85 minutes, tearing through half of Liverpool’s defence before beating Simon Mingolet.

The Premier League tussle in London provided more of the high-quality football that showed Chelsea are definitely among those who can ask questions of the league’s best, including reigning champions Manchester City. Hazard continued terrorising opposing differences, racing onto an exquisite through ball by Mateo Kovacic and beat Alisson across goal inside the right corner on 25 minutes.

This time, however, the world-class goal belonged to Liverpool, who received a stunning equaliser by Daniel Sturridge, whose left-footed rocket from 25 yards found the perfect spot of space over the outstretched hand of Kepa Arrizabalaga and just underneath the upper right 90 in the 89th minute as the sides split the points in a highly entertaining 1-1 draw.

After two high-intensity matches, Sarri has signaled he is going to turn over a good portion of his starting XI for this match so they can rest ahead of Sunday’s clash at Southampton. Conceivably, the Italian manager can overturn his entire lineup from the one that drew Liverpool, but there is a definite curiosity for him to try out Cesc Fabregas in Jorginho’s role as the deep-lying midfielder who doubles as the hub of all offence.

“Cesc did very well in the last 30 minutes in Greece and very well for 90 minutes in Liverpool,” Sarri told the club’s official website, referring to the Spaniard’s effort in the Carabao Cup. “He has to improve his physical condition of course but he is a great option in this position. Cesc is very good in moving the ball, like Jorginho, more than Jorginho, so we don’t need to change the style of football with Fabregas.”

Chelsea’s midfield could get an entire makeover, with Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek also likely to feature on either side of Fabregas. For the latter, it has been a disappointing lack of playing time after contributing to England’s run to the World Cup semifinal as a bustling midfielder off the bench.

Loftus-Cheek, a full-time starter last season on loan at Crystal Palace and had wanted to return to Selhurst Park knowing his spot was still there, has played just 33 minutes in two appearances and has not played in Chelsea’s last five matches due to both injuries and Sarri’s preferences.

Barkley, on the other hand, has flourished under the Italian’s tutelage and emerged as Kovacic’s understudy on the left side of the midfield in Chelsea’s 4-3-3 formation. He is hoping to get a call-up to England’s national side for the upcoming international break — potentially at Loftus-Cheek’s expense — and praised the coach for elevating his technical understanding of the game.

“Over the years I haven’t been coached much and I am at an age now where I understand football a lot more and I know how important it is to take the different tactics from different managers on board,” Barkley told The Times. “I feel like right now I am ready to understand every aspect of the game.

“When I broke into the Everton side under Roberto Martínez, I was playing in the No 10 role and I had never played there before from when I was developing through the academy to the first team. I was getting used to that role as a first-team player but usually I was a No 8 or, before I broke my leg, I was a deep-lying midfield player. I have always been a centre midfielder, either in a two or a three, and now I am in a three and I feel really comfortable with that.”

MOL Vidi, formerly known as Videoton before changing sponsors in the offseason, are at the bottom of Group L after opening with a 2-0 loss to BATE Borisov. Vidi are currently third in the domestic table through eight matches, eight points adrift of Ferencavros, and have won three contests on the bounce heading into this meeting.

They are coming off a 1-0 victory at Diosygor on Sunday, riding a 69th-minute goal by Szabolcs Huszti. Vidi talisman Juhasz Roland is making his first appearance in England in over a decade, last doing so with Belgian side Anderlecht, and is excited to see how his side stacks up with one of Europe’s heavyweight clubs.

“I was here around 13 years ago with Anderlecht, but so much has changed since then. I was at the start of my career back then, and I am now heading towards the end,” said Roland, the 35-year-old defender with two goals on the season, to the club’s official website. “I am pleased that I can be here again, which is why I signed for Vidi back then. Chelsea are the favourites but we can measure where we are against them. We must be fully focused throughout and if we are not, we will be punished. We want to enjoy every minute of the game.”

Vidi have scored 16 goals in league play, with Huszti and Marko Scepovic pacing the side with three goals apiece. Marko’s younger brother Stefan has also bagged a goal for the Hungary squad.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are overwhelming favourites to win and stay unbeaten at 1/12 odds. Even a split of the points seems like a far-fetched fantasy to oddsmakers, who have installed a draw at 10/1 odds, which is far shorter than a shock scoreline of Vidi winning, which is 22/1.

Oddsmakers are expecting Chelsea to run rampant, even with a second-choice lineup, as a hosts win with more than 2.5 goals has 4/11 odds. Even a soft 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline in favour of Chelsea has a 7/2 return. The odds of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw are a distant 12/1, which pales in comparison to a Vidi win with more than 2.5 goals (60/1) or less (70/1). Chelsea are also getting 6/10 odds to win with a clean sheet.

Alvaro Morata is one of three Chelsea players listed at 11/4 to score the match’s first goal, but the Spaniard is the only expected starter of the trio as both Hazard and Olivier Giroud join him. In fact, 14 of 16 potential Chelsea outfield players are listed as more likely to score the first goal of this contest before finding Marko Scepovic on the toteboard at 16/1.

A whopping four Chelsea players are better than even money to score during this match, with Pedro (5/6) joining the aforementioned trio of Morata (4/7), Giroud (4/7) and frontrunner Hazard (8/15). Another two — Willian and Callam Hudson-Odoi — are even money. Scepovic is again Vidi’s top option at a more modest 4/1 to help his side avoid a shutout.

PREDICTION

This will be a case of Chelsea being able to “veni and vici” Vidi, with the only question the margin of victory. It is a chance for Sarri to see his full squad and also see who is absorbing the new system he has installed beyond his top 13 outfield players since Barkley, Pedro and Morata are pigeonholed as his primary three substitutes in his 18-man group.

In a bigger picture, this is a very important match for Loftus-Cheek, who may be better served leaving the squad in January via transfer given how well-defined this squad is in order to make sure he does not fall too far down the pecking order for Gareth Southgate’s England squad. It also is a chance for Fabregas to prove his worth to Sarri, who has taken the same tack he did with Hazard earlier in this season regarding conditioning in adjusting to his higher-tempo style.

So in a perfect world, Chelsea win comfortably, no one gets injured and Sarri only has things to nit-pick about as opposed to worry his lessons are not taking hold. With the international break coming after Sunday’s match versus Southampton, Chelsea have an excellent opportunity to remain unbeaten during that sojourn, and it starts with this match.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 4, Vidi 0.

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