Maurizio Sarri takes charge of the Blues for the first time in European competition tomorrow and he believes our fixture against PAOK in Thessaloniki is our most important of the Europa League group stage.
Speaking to the media in northern Greece ahead of the game, the boss explained why he won’t be making wholesale changes to his team, discussed our opponent PAOK’s threats, and, firstly, revealed the reasoning behind some members of his squad not travelling…
‘David Luiz is in Cobham. He is playing very often now after six months without playing, and so I thought it would be better for him to have training and rest.
‘The second is Kovacic after the little injury in the last match against Cardiff.
‘The last one is Eden Hazard. He told me after the national team, and the match against Cardiff, he was a little bit tired, so I thought it would be better for him to stay at Cobham and rest.’
Sarri assessed the magnitude of our opening match in this competition and what he expects from his players
‘Our target is first of all to qualify, and then to qualify in first spot in our group. So, in order to win our group, the match tomorrow is the most important in the group because it’s the most difficult match.
‘My players are professionals. They must be able to play in every situation. I am worried about the opponent because they are a very good team, not about the atmosphere in the stadium.'
The local media asked what Sarri knew about PAOK, the Greek Cup winners
‘I have seen the four matches played by PAOK in the Champions League play-offs. My staff have seen the matches of the Greek championship. I think I know everything.
‘We want to play with our characteristics, to control the match with our ball possession, but I know tomorrow will be difficult. They are a good team. They have won against Basel, Spartak Moscow, they drew against Benfica in Portugal. We have to do a very good match if we want to gain points.'
Regarding the changes to his team Sarri will make, he was asked if Ruben Loftus-Cheek could start tomorrow
‘I don’t know. Loftus-Cheek for me is a very good player, but I don’t know if there is a spot for him tomorrow. Of course there will be in the future.
‘Now it’s very difficult. In the first part of the season it’s very important to play with possibly the same players to have a very solid team. Tomorrow I have to change four or five players, but it’s impossible at this moment of the season to change 11 players.
‘Unfortunately, we have to play with 11 players, and I have 28 players. Tomorrow 17 players will not be happy with me! There is a match tomorrow, there is a match on Wednesday, after the match on Sunday against West Ham, so I think in these two matches there will be a chance for 20 players.’