From south-west Spain to south-west London, the Champions League group stage brings Sevilla to town for the opener. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton have the talking points ahead of Tuesday evening’s match…
The past two winners of the Europa League will meet tonight for the first time in a competitive fixture as Handel’s ‘Zadok The Priest’ heralds another Champions League campaign for Chelsea, only this time to empty stands at Stamford Bridge.
This is the Blues’ 29th season in Europe and 17th Champions League campaign. Last season, London’s only ever European Cup kings tumbled out to ultimate winners, Bayern Munich, who recently beat tonight’s visitors Sevilla in the Super Cup.
The Blues’ most recent home success against Spanish compatriots of Sevilla was a famous one: the 1-0 semi-final first leg victory over Barcelona in 2012 sealed by Didier Drogba’s goal. There have been four opportunities since then at the Bridge, two that were drawn and two lost
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The Andalusians have managed three successive victories against English opposition. They saw off Wolves and Manchester United en route to winning the Europa League last season, but had a mixed experience in their Champions League clashes with Liverpool, Leicester and United in 2017 and 2018.
Group stage meetings with Liverpool were both high-scoring draws, and in a Round of 16 meeting Leicester edged them 3-2 on aggregate. They beat Man U 2-1 on agg.
Chelsea home to Spanish clubs
P18 W9 D6 L3
Sevilla away to English clubs
P7 W4 D2 L1
On the other side of the group, Rennes (Chelsea ’keeper Edouard Mendy’s former club) entertain currently mid-table Russian Premier League outfit Krasnodar.
The average age of the four head coaches in Group E is just 43½.—KEY STAT
Chelsea team news
Frank Lampard is in charge of a hungry and talented young squad with experience at Europe’s elite level already under their belts. However the Champions League, and especially seasoned counter-attacking sides such as Sevilla, are liable to find any gaps and exploit them.
Saturday’s late concession and loss of points led to the head coach reminding his players of the significance of game management – staying focused, scenting danger and maintaining energy – at any level of the game.
Although Edouard Mendy may not be quite fit to resume duty between the posts, centre-back Thiago Silva, rested after a long-haul return from international duty, was a finalist in this competition two months back and should help restore order to a defence that conceded three at the weekend.
Of course there were huge positives to take from the 3-3 draw on the attacking side, with slick and incisive combination play setting up plentiful chances against defensive tactics, but efficiency in converting them is another prerequisite for European success.
Chelsea’s desire to thread through passes for advanced players to lay off could bear fruit against the Europa League winners, whose midfield leave space. Like Chelsea they have been prone to conceding chances through unforced errors or vulnerability down the flanks, hence an influx of new players.
If the Blues’ attack is on-song this evening, the wing-backs crucial to Sevilla’s system will find themselves pegged back far more than they would like. Saturday’s two-goal man Timo Werner enjoys Champions League football. The German scored seven goals and set up two in his last 11 appearances in the competition for Leipzig.
Sounding out Sevilla
Former goalkeeper Julen Lopetegui steered Spain’s cup kings to fourth place in La Liga and another Europa League triumph in his first season as coach. He favours a 4-3-3 formation, with adventurous wing-backs, aggressive midfielders and flair behind a target man.
The Red-and-Whites tend to play the ball out from the back, especially through midfielder Nemanja Gudelj, which invites a pressing strategy from opponents.
Yet the Andalusians are not averse to switching it long to the flanks to wing-backs Jesus Navas or Marcos Acuna (the replacement for Sergio Reguilon, now at Spurs). At the age of 34 Navas remains their most influential player, creating more shooting opportunities than any team-mate, and skewing their attacks to the right flank.
Their set-plays are usually aimed at six-yard threats Luuk De Jong, and centre-backs Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde, who is unavailable this evening. Kounde and Hakim Ziyech’s Morocco wing-mate Oussama Idrissi were not in the Sevilla party that travelled to London yesterday morning.
Resting players for this fixture backfired at the weekend against Granada as Acuna’s feet were up fewer than 20 minutes before left-back Sergio Escudero was crocked. Joan Jordan’s second yellow card made it hard work for his team-mates, who went down 0-1 to a free header (Jordan is available tonight).
Chelsea will want to pressurise goalkeeper Yassine ‘Bono’ Bounou who has displaced Tomas Vaclik following his Europa League heroics, though Granada exposed some uncertain decision-making when facing crosses and set-pieces.
Where to watch Chelsea versus Sevilla
All Champions League matches are broadcast in the UK by BT Sport and this match will be on BT Sport 2. For other countries,
Man in black
It is an all-Italian party of officials this evening, with Davide Massa holding the whistle and Marco Di Bello the main screen-gazer. Serie A was an early adopter of VAR in 2017/18 (two years before the Premier League) and is keen to extend use of the system, such as allowing coaches to appeal reviews.
The first night effect
The first match of the group at home can set a tone, but with five other games remaining nothing is decided: each side needs to press on or make amends between now and mid-December. Yet when home advantage presents the chance to draw first blood against the biggest group rival, it is an offer the host does well to accept.
The last time Chelsea took three points at the Bridge on match night one was in September 2017 when Qarabag were the visitors. The Blues capitalised on nervousness to run out emphatic 6-0 victors but finished second in the group, so a good opening night does not guarantee the perfect run.
Equally, first game set-backs at home have rarely cost the Blues. Of four draws and two losses sustained in UEFA competitions, only one – the 2-2 at the Bridge against Juventus in 2012 – was followed by a failure to qualify for the Champions League knockout rounds. Another, 1-1 with Rosenborg in 2007, prefaced a first-place finish and the final in Moscow