Sports Mole provides team news, predicted lineups and a full preview of the first leg of the Europa League semi-final between Eintracht Frankfurt and Chelsea.
Chelsea make the trip to Germany to face Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final looking to maintain their unbeaten record in this year’s competition.
Frankfurt welcome the Blues looking to register another high-profile scalp as they bid to move closer to winning their first European trophy since 1980.
The summer exit of Nico Kovac led to many question marks hanging over the progress of Eintracht Frankfurt this season, but Adi Hutter has helped Die Alder remain an emerging force in German football.
Frankfurt still have work to do if they want to secure a top-four spot in the Bundesliga standings, but as much priority is being placed on ending a 39-year wait for a European trophy.
Hutter’s side were only regarded as dark horses ahead of this year’s competition, but they have repeatedly got the better of fancied teams to put themselves in a position where they have total belief in that they can lift the trophy in Baku at the end of May.
Their rivals would have taken note of their victories over Lazio and Marseille in the group stages, but also progressing past Shakhtar Donetsk, Inter Milan and Benfica has left Frankfurt as the most dangerous team in the final four.
Luka Jovic has received most of the praise for his goalscoring exploits this season, with the Serbian’s 25 goals in all competitions leading to interest from a number of the top clubs on the continent.
However, it has taken a team effort for Frankfurt to reach this stage, with as many as 16 players having contributed a goal or assist in 12 Europa League outings.
Frankfurt have only registered two points from their last three Bundesliga fixtures, but Chelsea would be naive to think that Hutter’s men are fading after a lengthy campaign.
Thursday’s game at the Commerzbank-Arena is arguably the biggest in their recent history, and Chelsea are going head to head with a team who have conceded just twice in six European home matches this season.
Recent form: DWDWLW
Recent form (all competitions): WLLWDD
Chelsea head into their 59th game of the season having maintained two chances to achieve Champions League football, but Maurizio Sarri knows that success or failure over the next four games could decide whether he remains at Stamford Bridge next season.
There have been signs over the past two months that Chelsea’s players are becoming more accustomed to their head coach’s favoured style of play, while Sarri himself has found himself having to tinker with his system to successfully accommodate the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
However, the double-header with Frankfurt will represent the club’s first real test in this year’s Europa League, and it remains to be seen how Chelsea will react when facing a team who have the proven firepower to eliminate them from the competition.
The injuries to Antonio Rudiger and Hudson-Odoi have come at the wrong time for Sarri, and the Italian must now rely on players who have either spent significant spells out of the team or have failed to produce a consistent run of form.
Nevertheless, Sarri will take encouragement from his side’s performance in the 1-1 draw at Manchester United on Sunday afternoon, with the result representing the first time that Chelsea have conceded less than two goals away from home against a top-six Premier League team this season.
The West Londoners had to ride their luck at the back, but Chelsea left Old Trafford with the feeling of disappointment having created enough openings to snatch all three points.
Frankfurt’s best work as arguably come on their travels this season – especially in the Bundesliga – but Chelsea were in need of reassurance that they can produce a strong showing away from home after below-par efforts against Cardiff City, Slavia Prague and Liverpool.
Sarri will feel that away goals are a must given Frankfurt’s threat in the return game at Stamford Bridge, and his players must begin to show a ruthless streak to ensure that they can feature at European football’s top table during the next campaign.
Recent form: WWWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWLWDD
Willian received a knock to his ankle in Sunday’s game with Man United, but the Brazilian is expected to feature in the 18-man squad.
Andreas Christensen should replace the injured Antonio Rudiger, while Emerson Palmieri may return in order to take the spot of Marcos Alonso at left-back.
Either Loftus-Cheek or Ross Barkley should come into the team as a replacement for Mateo Kovacic, with Pedro and Olivier Giroud being selected in the final third.
Frankfurt will be without Croatia international Ante Rebic – who serves a one-match suspension – but Evan Ndicka returns after a ban.
Mijat Gacinovic is an injury doubt for the German side, with former Swansea City man Jonathan de Guzman a potential inclusion should he not recover from a stomach injury.
Eintracht Frankfurt possible starting lineup:
Trapp; Ndicka, Hinteregger, Hasebe; Costa, Rode, Fernandes, Kostic; Gacinovic; Jovic, Paciencia
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Luiz, Palmieri; Kante, Jorginho, Barkley; Pedro, Giroud, Hazard
Head To Head
Thursday’s fixture will represent the first time that these two teams have squared off in an official match.
Chelsea have only been drawn against German opposition on two occasions since 2013, with the Blues coming through unbeaten in four games against Schalke 04 in the Champions League group stages.
Frankfurt last played a competitive game against an English side when recording a goalless draw against Newcastle United in the UEFA Cup during the 2006-07 campaign.
We say: Eintracht Frankfurt 2-2 Chelsea
We can only see plenty of goals being scored in this tie, and that could lead to a thriller on Thursday night. Frankfurt have hit the back of the net on a regular basis throughout this competition, but we are backing Chelsea to return to Stamford Bridge with a couple of away goals.