The Blues have flown east with a clear target from tonight’s game. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton focus on our fourth group game in this Europa League campaign…
Chelsea can clinch a place in next year’s Europa League round of 32 with victory in this 5.55pm kick-off in Belarus. Top place will confirmed should we win and the other game in Group L over in Budapest finishes as a draw.
BATE Borisov’s stadium is on a street named after Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and although it would not take something out of this world for our Belarusian hosts to qualify for the next phase, they have not won at home in the four games there in Europe this season.
The Blues have a 100 per cent record in Group L after three fixtures, and are six points clear of a trio of rivals, all on three. The Borisovites won 2-0 at Vidi on the opening night in Group L, but then lost 4-1 at home to PAOK. Vidi’s surprise victory over the Greeks muddied the water.
As head-to-head aggregate is the first criterion placing one team above another in the event of points tie, BATE’s final two performances, at home to Vidi and away to PAOK, can still deliver them a top-two finish. Tonight, BATE’s coach Aleksei Baga believes, ‘for the three teams [below Chelsea] the script will begin to be written in a new way.’ A point could prove crucial for the Belarusians.
In our meeting at the Bridge a fortnight ago, the Blues raced into a two-goal lead inside 10 minutes before the match ended 3-1. Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored all three – the Londoners’ first hat-trick in any UEFA competition since Didier Drogba away to Levski Sofia in September 2006.
There was a warning in the Yellow-Blues’ consolation goal, however, and Chelsea will want to avoid any hint of a ‘Berezina’ this evening. During Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in winter 1812, the army’s losses next to the Berezina river, which runs through Borisov on its way to the Black Sea, were so shocking that in France it is still a byword for catastrophe.
A win against BATE will secure our qualification for the round of 32 with two games still to play.
— Key stat
Elsewhere across the Europa League groups, Arsenal, Bayer Leverkusen, Dinamo Zagreb, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lazio, Leipzig, Real Betis, Salzburg and Zurich can all tonight join Maurizio Sarri’s side in the next stage. After this week’s Champions League action it also a little clearer which eight clubs might finish third in their group and parachute into the Europa League round of 32.
The position of Chelsea and Arsenal in their respective groups, coupled with Tottenham’s standing in the Champions League, make it possible that all of London’s leading lights will enter the last 32 of this competition. Clubs from the same country cannot be drawn against each other in that round, however.
On Sunday BATE clinched the Belarus league title with a 1-0 victory over Neman Grodno, leaving them unassailably 14 points clear with three games to play. There were scenes of great jubilation and pyrotechnics in the Borisov Arena as the trophy was presented to players wearing t-shirts bearing the number 15 – representing their 15th championship (and 13th in succession).
However, the staff and players celebrated modestly with a dinner – no partners or family – and then began their preparations to face what Baga describes as ‘a fantastic coach, fantastic football players, a multi-million army of fans around the world.’
Baga also warned Chelsea that after Liverpool’s loss to Red Star on Tuesday, ‘There are no “invincibles” today.’ Perhaps not, but Sarri extended his near-flawless start at Stamford Bridge on Sunday to 16 games, with only one Chelsea team ever remaining undefeated for longer.
(All competitions except Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup.)
Leading scorer Eden Hazard, who travelled with the squad to Belarus, wore the Chelsea shirt for the 312th time on Sunday, drawing level with assistant coach and former forward Gianfranco Zola. Only four overseas players have made more appearances for the Londoners.
APPEARANCES BY OVERSEAS PLAYERS
Petr Cech 494
Didier Drogba 381
Branislav Ivanovic 377
John Mikel Obi 372
Gianfranco Zola 312
Eden Hazard 312
Chelsea have won six of our past seven games on the road in all competitions this season, and drawn the other one. Five were achieved with clean sheets.
Weekend opponents Everton staged a historic friendly at Goodison Park on Tuesday against Kenyan champions Gor Mahia, the first east African club to visit a Premier League side.
Chelsea’s route to the Women’s Champions League final in Budapest will become clear when the quarter-final and semi-final ties are drawn on Friday, streamed live from midday on the UEFA website.
Having beaten Elfsborg Under-19s 3-0 in round two of the UEFA Youth League in Sweden yesterday, the young Blues play the second leg at Cobham on Wednesday 28 November.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS EVENING…
A feast of football that finalises the group.
Other Group L fixture
Tonight - Vidi v PAOK - 5.55pm (UK time)