Verdict: Chelsea win to nil
Best Odds: 5/6
Chelsea will be looking to maintain their post-Carabao Cup final momentum when they welcome Ukraine’s most historic club Dynamo Kyiv to Stamford Bridge in the Europa League last-16 first leg on Thursday night.
Starting with the hosts, while Blues boss Maurizio Sarri may have shocked many be stating his side were “physically and mentally tired” prior to Thursday’s tie, Chelsea should see Dynamo Kiev’s arrival as the perfect opportunity to gain an early advantage. While the former Napoli boss might see his side sat outside the top-four in the Premier League, the Londoners are coming off the back of a pair of derby victories over Fulham and Tottenham. With the Europa League now their only chance to lift a piece of silverware this season, it has been Chelsea’s form in West London that has remained a constant. Aside from their 2-0 defeat to Manchester United in the FA Cup last month, the Blues are unbeaten in their other eight matches Stamford Bridge. If Sarri’s side are to extend their unbeaten home record and gain an early advantage in midweek, then the hosts will be looking for Brazilian winger Willian to carry on his eye-catching run in this year’s Europa League. The 30-year-old has had a direct hand in seven Europa League goals this season – no Chelsea player has had more goal involvements in a single European campaign.
The likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Olivier Giroud both started – and scored – in the second leg against Malmo and will be hoping to play a prominent role once more here.
Willy Caballero may return in goal after Kepa was restored to the starting XI against Fulham, but midfielders Danny Drinkwater (tendon) and Marco van Ginkel (knee) are out injured.
As for the visitors, while Dynamo Kiev might be coming off the back of a close-fought 2-1 win away at Desna over the weekend, Alyaksandr Khatskevic’s side have struggled with their consistency in the second half of the season. Along with now chasing a seven-point buffer to bitter-rivals Shakhtar Donetsk in the race to land a 16th Russian Premier League title, Kiev have also famously struggled after making it past the group stage in the Europa League. Thursday’s visitors have not won any of their last nine first-leg knockout matches in Europe. in fact, their last victory came thanks to a home victory over Manchester City way back in 2011. However, while Chelsea have one man who enjoys his appearances in the Europa League, Kiev also have their own attacker who is continuing to shine in this year’s tournament. Viktor Tsygankov has constantly been the primary source of creativity for the visitors and his 20 chances created in Europe this season is only bettered by three players including Chelsea’s much-maligned Willian (25). The 21-year-old has also now bagged nine goals in the Russian Premier League this season, including four in his last four domestic outings.
Dynamo Kiev are without Spanish striker Fran Sol, who will require surgery on a shoulder injury suffered against FC Desna on Saturday and could miss up to two months of action.
Top scorer Benjamin Verbic is suspended, which could lead to either Sidcley or Heorhiy Tsitaishvili being drafted in on the left wing.
Key Factors to Consider
- Chelsea will face Dynamo Kiev for the third time, with the Blues winning one and drawing one of the two previous meetings in the group stages of the 2015-16 Champions League.
- Dynamo Kiev have never won a European match in England, with the Ukrainians drawing three and losing 11 of their 14 previous visits. They most recently drew 0-0 draw at the Etihad against Manchester City in the Champions League last 16 in March 2016.
- Chelsea’s only previous appearance at this stage of the Europa League was back in 2012-13. They defeated Romanian side FCSB over two legs and went on to lift the trophy under Rafael Benitez.
- Dynamo Kiev have not won any of their last nine first-leg knockout matches in the Europa League. Their last victory came at home to Manchester City in March 2011.
- Willian has had a direct hand in seven Europa League goals this season – no Chelsea player has had more goal involvements in a single European campaign since Juan Mata (12) and Fernando Torres (9) during their 2012-13 Europa League-winning season.
While the future of Maurizio Sarri might remain in some doubt, Chelsea have made some much-needed improvements since their League Cup defeat last month. Given the gulf in class between the two sides and Kiev’s struggles against British opposition, we’re backing a comfortable evening for the Blues on Thursday night.
Verdict: Chelsea win to nil
Best Odds: 5/6
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