BATE Borisov v Chelsea Thursday November 8, 17:55 Live on BT Sport 2
BATE must stop slide to rescue Europa campaign
It had all started so well for the Belarusian champions BATE Borisov. A 2-0 win in Hungary against Vidi was a perfect opening to the group stage, but since then they have been thrashed 4-1 at home by PAOK and been swept aside 3-1 at Chelsea.
This wobble at continental level is in sharp contrast to their domestic form, which has been excellent as usual. BATE are 14 points clear at the top of the Belarusian top flight, and they have won eight of their last nine matches.
BATE have won just one of their last six Europa League home games, and just two of their last nine overall in the tournament. In their last six UEL outings, they have conceded an eye-watering 18 goals. It will be fascinating to see what their approach is against Chelsea - a point would represent a decent result, given that PAOK and Vidi are locked together with BATE on three points, but are they capable of digging in?
Sarri has learned lesson, and found UEL balance
When he was Napoli boss, Maurizio Sarri unashamedly prioritised a push for the Serie A title over European competition. As a result, Napoli crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage, and then tumbled out of the Europa League against RB Leipzig.
This season, with a stronger squad at his disposal as Chelsea boss, he has found a better balance. Key players like Eden Hazard have been largely left out of the UEL campaign, but strong enough teams have been selected to get the job done. Players like Gary Cahill, Cesc Fabregas and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (who scored a hat-trick against BATE on MD3) have relished the opportunity to shine, and Alvaro Morata has used the competition to play himself into form.
Chelsea have won all three matches, conceding just one goal in the process. A win in Belarus would see them progress with two games to spare, and you can see why the Blues have been installed as the 4.70 favourites to win the competition. Looking at the teams who realistically might drop down from the Champions League after Christmas, I think only PSG would deprive Chelsea of that favouritism.
Mateo Kovacic and Loftus-Cheek were substitutes for the weekend's Premier League win over Crystal Palace, and could start. Hazard is struggling with a back injury, and may be rested entirely.
Chelsea rightful favourites, but margin of victory the key
Chelsea are 1.43 favourites to win the match, and rightly so given their excellent form across all competitions. They have made plenty of chances in all three of their matches so far, and had it not been for a stellar display by BATE keeper Denis Scherbitski, that victory could've been more handsome.
BATE have consistently leaked goals at this level in the last two seasons, and I don't see why that will stop now. I'll back Chelsea -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at [2.17].
Goals on the cards if Chelsea hit top gear
BATE may be of a mind to keep things tight, but judging by their efforts at Stamford Bridge, I'm not sure they are capable of doing that.
Chelsea will attack (Sarri wouldn't accept a different approach), so I would go for Over 2.5 Goals at 1.83. Chelsea's last six matches in all competitions have all featured at least three goals.
Loftus-Cheek to shine again?
Ruben Loftus-Cheek seized his opportunity in the reverse fixture by netting a hat-trick. He is 3.05to score in this game, while the excellent Pedro is worth backing at 3.15 if he starts - the vastly experienced Spaniard consistently gets into dangerous positions.