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Eden Hazard is “tired” and could be rested for Chelsea’s Europa League quarter-final first leg against Slavia Prague, manager Maurizio Sarri says.
The Belgian forward has scored three goals in the past two games but the manager expects to make “five or six changes” in Prague on Thursday.
“I want to wait until tomorrow and then I will decide [on his availability],” said Sarri.
“Of course, we have to play in Liverpool three days after.”
Sarri’s best chance of survival?
Maurizio Sarri has been under pressure in recent weeks, with Chelsea dropping out of the Premier League top four after losing the Carabao Cup final in dramatic fashion as goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted.
Consecutive home wins against Brighton and West Ham have lifted the Blues into third, although fourth-placed Tottenham and fifth-placed Arsenal will move above Chelsea if they win their games in hand.
With difficult trips to Anfield and Old Trafford to come in the English top-flight for Chelsea, securing qualification for next season’s Champions League by winning this competition could be the Italian’s best chance of retaining his job.
Having won the Europa League in 2013, the Blues are 13 games unbeaten in the competition.
However, Sarri is wary of his side’s “dangerous” Czech opponents, who will host the Blues in a partially closed stadium after they were punished by Uefa for multiple offences during their home game against Genk in February.
“We need to be very compact and to defend very well,” said Sarri. “Especially on crosses because they attack the box with five or six players, and they are dangerous on counter-attacks.
“They scored six goals in two matches against Sevilla and it won’t be easy for us.”
Close attention for Hazard?
Hazard may not feature in the capital of the Czech Republic, but he can expect the close attention of the home defenders if he is selected.
Slavia Prague defender Vladimir Coufal says Hazard can “turn five defenders into training cones in a second”.
“Nevertheless, I will try to make things difficult for him,” said Coufal.
“We are extremely saddened by the fact that three of our sectors will be closed. Hopefully, it will be a lesson for everyone involved and such a situation will never happen again.”
Slavia are seven points clear at the top of the Czech league with three games remaining, and manager Jindrich Trpisovsky believes his side are “strong enough to face a world-class opponent”.
“We are talking about a club that plays in the Premier League and challenges for trophies year in, year out,” he said. “Their qualities are indisputable and I honestly think that Chelsea is the best defensive team in Premier League.”
- This will be the first competitive meeting between Slavia Prague and Chelsea. The Czech side have won just one of their previous nine games against English sides in Europe (D2 L6) – this coming against Leeds United in March 2000 in the UEFA Cup (2-1).
- That home victory over Leeds was Slavia Prague’s most recent game in a European quarter-final; they were eliminated having lost the first leg 0-3 at Elland Road. Their only progression from a European quarter final was in the 1995-96 UEFA Cup against Roma (3-3 on away goals).
- This is Chelsea’s 10th European quarter-final since 2003-04. The Blues have progressed from nine of those ties, only being eliminated by Manchester United in the Champions League in 2010-11.
- Chelsea have won more games (nine) and have a better goal difference (+21) than any other side in the Europa League this season.
- Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud is the top scorer in this season’s Europa League with nine goals. The last player to surpass this figure in a single Europa League season was Aritz Aduriz, who netted 10 goals for Athletic Bilbao in 2015-16.