Dynamo Kiev vs Chelsea preview: Blues on course for Europa League quarter-finals
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Last Updated: 14/03/19 9:44am
Chelsea already have one foot in the Europa League quarter-finals as they prepare to face Dynamo Kiev in Thursday's last-16 second-leg tie at the Olympic Stadium (kick-off 5.55pm).
Goals from Pedro, a Willian free-kick and Callum Hudson-Odoi sealed a comfortable 3-0 victory over their Ukranian opponents at home last week, underlining their tag as favourites for the competition.
The Blues were brought back down to earth following a 1-1 draw with Wolves at Stamford Bridge, which leaves Maurizio Sarri's side three points off fourth place in the Premier League, with a game in hand over current occupants Arsenal.
With a trip to face Everton at Goodison Park on Super Sunday, travelling to Kiev does not represent ideal preparations for Sarri, but a route into next season's Champions League by winning the Europa League in Baku remains a very distinct possibility.
The Italian is expected to rotate his squad once more ahead of a ninth game in 25 days but Pedro, Willian, N'Golo Kante and David Luiz were among the travelling party that departed London on Wednesday.
Ahead of the return leg, Sarri insists his players are fully focused on completing the job in Ukraine, and not on Premier League matters.
He said: "We need application, otherwise if you concede a goal, you can be mentally in trouble. We need to go there with a high level of attention."
Given Tottenham's decline in domestic form, Sarri will retain a two-pronged assault on securing Chelsea's return to the Champions League, but Dynamo will be determined to give a better account of themselves after offering very little in the first leg.
Alyaksandr Khatskevich's side were expected to provide a stern test having arrived with an unbeaten away record in this year's competition, but they lacked an attacking outlet in the absence of top scorer Benjamin Verbic.
His return from suspension will surely make them an entirely different proposition on home soil.
Dynamo Kiev striker Fran Sol remains injured, meaning the inexperienced Nazariy Rusyn will again lead the line.
Midfieder Vitaliy Buyalski is suspended but Verbic is back to feature alongside Mykola Shaparenko and Viktor Tsygankov in the engine room.
Gonzalo Higuain missed training earlier this week due to illness and has not made the trip to the Ukraine.
"He had a fever after the match in the Premier League (against Wolves) for two days, so yesterday in the evening with the doctor, we decided to leave him at home," said Sarri. "Just in order to recover him for the next match."
The Blues boss may hand starts to Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has scored three goals in seven Europa League appearances this season.
Willy Caballero, Davide Zappacosta, Andreas Christensen, Ross Barkley and Olivier Giroud are all expected to start having not been selected in the 1-1 draw with Wolves, while Marcos Alonso could be recalled after not being in the matchday squad.
- 90 per cent of sides to score at least three goals in the first leg of a Europa League knockout tie have progressed to the next round (73/81).
- Dynamo Kiev have progressed from their last two Europa league knockout ties in which they have lost the first leg away from home - both during the 2014-15 campaign, knocking out Guingamp in the last 32 and Everton in the last 16.
- Dynamo Kiev will host Chelsea in a European encounter for the first time since October 2015, when they drew 0-0 in a Champions League group stage match.
- Of sides still in this season's Europa League, only Eintracht Frankfurt (six) are on a longer current unbeaten run away from home in the competition than Chelsea (five - W4 D1).
- Of his nine Europa League appearances this season, Chelsea forward Willian has either scored or assisted at least one goal in seven different matches (three goals, five assists).
Maurizio Sarri can afford to give some players a rest with a three-goal advantage. He can play Olivier Giroud and give Eden Hazard a break, for example.
As we saw at the weekend, Chelsea still blow hot and cold. They can still get close to Arsenal if they win their game in hand. They just need to focus in on the moment and hang on in there.
For me, I would want to go to Ukraine and come back with a positive feel after a positive result. I'm sure he will play Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi, so they will be happy to get some more game time.
CHARLIE PREDICTS: 0-0 (8/1 with Sky Bet)