Tonight's Europa League knockout tie is balanced at 2-1 to the Blues after our journey to Sweden seven days ago. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview the Round of 32 decider…
Tonight kicks off a crucial run of three matches, all in London, that Cesar Azpilicueta has encapsulated as ‘the whole season’. To begin with, we look to extend the first-leg lead from Malmo’s Stadion, the 211th ground Chelsea have graced since 1905.
The Swedish visitors, known as di Blae (the Blues), are the 81st different opponent the Blues have faced in European competition. It is their 109th birthday on Sunday, so many happy returns to them. We trust such generosity of spirit ends at 8pm on the playing field.
The name of Malmo’s fellow countryfolk, Atvidabergs, could have been written on the heart of every great early 1970s Chelsea player (see our History part later for more), and no one wants a repeat of that away goals catastrophe at the Bridge tonight.
Slipping out of the top four in the Premier League has brought a greater focus on this competition, which now offers up a Champions League place as a weighty prize, commensurate with its status as the heaviest of UEFA’s pieces of silverware.
We are often at our best when others write us off, and the Swedes’ full-back Andreas Vindheim has joined in, saying the Blues lack confidence and have not found the net very often of late. No one in SW6 is voting ‘Chexit’: Chelsea will be determined to maintain a close relationship with Europe, to Baku and beyond.
Chelsea have never been eliminated from European competition after recording an away first-leg win.
— Key stat
The win in Scandinavia, though not as comfortable as it might have been, brought the first goals and points on the road for the club since the turn of the year. It ensured the Londoners are in a sequence of 10 Europa League games unbeaten, nine of them victories.
Two goals for Maurizio Sarri’s men this evening would, you imagine, make Malmo’s task extremely difficult, but the problem this season of goalmouth inefficiency was in evidence again on Monday. In this competition, though, Chelsea have won each of the last six home games, scoring at least three times in five of them.
While Chelsea have suffered a 0-2 home defeat in the FA Cup since the first leg, Malmo laboured to see off second level Degerfors 3-2 in their domestic knockout competition. ‘We were not good enough today,’ admitted their manager Uwe Rosler. ‘My thoughts are already on the match on Thursday.’
The Swedish league campaign does not begin again until 31 March and Rosler’s team were rapidly out of the blocks in the first leg, perhaps mindful that as they are still in pre-season they might fade later in the game.
They are likely to defend en masse again this evening, hoping the Londoners switch off and allow them to counter, so they can grab the two goals they require to stand any chance of passage to the Round of 16.
Chelsea and Malmo also meet today at Under-17 level in a friendly match taking place at our Cobham training centre.
Following last week’s victory in Sweden, Chelsea rose above Zenit to 17th in UEFA’s latest coefficient rankings.
Since 1965, the winner of a two-leg tie that was drawn after the second leg could be determined on the basis of extra value placed on goals scored away from home, the ‘away goals rule’ as it is commonly known.
UEFA first experimented with the idea in the 1965/66 Cup Winners’ Cup, and it still applies tonight.
How long that will remain the case is the subject of a review by European football’s governing body after leading coaches broached its abolition at a symposium last summer.
The Elite Club Coaches Forum’s suggestion was that the game has become more standardised across the continent, diminishing home advantage, and that it encourages cagier play by the host team. UEFA discussed the potential change again this month, but have not yet published their decision.
Chelsea were beneficiaries of a similar change in this season’s Carabao Cup, when Tottenham were beaten at Stamford Bridge in the semi-final in a penalty shoot-out after the Blues’ 2-1 win meant a 2-2 tie over the two legs.
So in the event the score tonight after 90 minutes is 2-1 to Malmo, extra-time will be played and, if necessary, penalties will ensue. Any other scoreline will result in the game ending after normal time.
Chelsea have been successful in our last two penalty shoot-outs. Malmo have lost two and won one of theirs over the past seven-and-a-half years.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS EVENING…
Last sixteen, here we come.
Europa League top scorers
Munas Dabbur (Salzburg) 6
Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) 5
Wissam Ben Yedder (Sevilla) 5
Luka Jovic (Frankfurt) 5
Tonight’s round of 32 fixtures
Sevilla 2 Lazio 0 (agg 3-0)
Arsenal v BATE Borisov 5.55pm (agg 0-1)
Dinamo Zagreb v Viktoria Plzen 5.55pm (agg 1-2)
Eintract Frankfurt v Shakhtar Donetsk 5.55pm (agg 2-2)
Napoli v Zurich 5.55pm (agg 3-1)
Salzburg v Club Brugge 5.55pm (agg 1-2)
Valencia v Celtic 5.55pm (agg 2-0)
Villarreal v Sporting Lisbon 5.55pm (agg 1-0)
Zenit v Fenerbahce 5.55pm (agg 0-1)
Bayer Leverkusen v Krasnodar 8pm (agg 0-0)
Benfica v Galatasaray 8pm (agg 2-1)
Chelsea v Malmo 8pm (agg 2-1)
Dynamo Kiev v Olympiakos 8pm (agg 2-2)
Genk v Slavia Prague 8pm (agg 0-0)
Inter Milan v Rapid Vienna 8pm (agg 1-0)
Real Betis v Rennes 8pm (agg 3-3)