Chelsea are having a rough spell, and the pressure is building on manager Maurizio Sarri. Kevin Hatchard believes that pressure will be slightly eased by an entertaining win...
"Malmo haven't failed to score in a competitive game since late September, and Chelsea have been leaking goals of late."
Chelsea v Malmo
Thursday February 21, 20:00
Live on BT Sport
Sarri on the brink as Plan A falters
Patience is a commodity that is often in short supply in football, and it's not something that is being lavished on Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri. Even though the Italian has already reached one cup final, is on the verge of reaching the Europa League's last 16 and is still in the mix for Champions League qualification, a series of poor performances have seen criticism of his methods reach fever pitch.
The Blues were outplayed by Manchester United on Monday at Stamford Bridge, and crashed out of the FA Cup. That result was hot on the heels of a humiliating 6-0 defeat at Manchester City, and a 4-0 demolition by Bournemouth. This is not what "Sarriball" was supposed to bring, and there was clear evidence on Monday that Blues fans have lost faith in their coach's ideas.
Sarri remains in situ, and the next few games could make or break his tenure in west London. A 2-1 first-leg win in Sweden must be built upon, before Manchester City are faced on Sunday at Wembley in the League Cup final, and Spurs are welcomed to Stamford Bridge next week.
Chelsea have at least been consistent in the Europa League. They took 16 points from the six group matches, won all three of their home games, and played pretty well in Malmo last week. The lesser-spotted Callum Hudson-Odoi could get a rare start, while Olivier Giroud is likely to lead the line, having scored the winner in the first leg. With Wembley looming, it would be a surprise to see star player Eden Hazard start, or perhaps even be involved.
Malmo can take heart from Besiktas win
Swedish side Malmo are up against it after last week's 2-1 defeat, but they have upset the odds already in this competition. They went into the final round of group games needing to win in Istanbul against Besiktas, and they came away with a 1-0 victory.
Uwe Rosler's team certainly showed no fear against the Blues last week. They started the match aggressively, trying to press and win the ball in dangerous areas. Eventually, Chelsea's quality told, but a late goal from Andres Christiansen means Malmo's hopes haven't been entirely extinguished.
Rosler has no fresh injury worries from the weekend's cup win over Degerfors, and could name the same side that started the first leg.
Backing Chelsea is a leap of faith
Chelsea's recent form is poor, and therefore backing them to win comfortably involves a certain degree of faith that they will show their quality. However, there are a few reasons why I think this will be a resounding home victory.
Firstly, there is a major cup final on the horizon, and players will be motivated to catch Sarri's eye. Secondly, for all Malmo's aggression and effort last week, there was a clear gap in class. Finally, for all the talk of players displaying poor body language and losing faith in Sarri, the group must have been wounded by recent defeats, and I expect a response here.
Chelsea have won all three of their Europa League home matches, and I think they are worth backing -1.5 on the Asian Handicap at [1.75].
Malmo to strike a blow?
If you believe that Malmo are capable of scoring (they looked a big threat from set plays and counter-attacks last week), then you might consider backing Both Teams To Score at [2.12].
Malmo have scored in each of their last six UEL matches, and they haven't drawn a blank in a competitive game since late September. Chelsea have leaked 13 goals in their last five matches.
Kevin Hatchard 2018-19 Europa League P/L
Points Staked: 38
Points Returned: 38.8
P/L: +0.8 points
Back Both Teams To Score at [2.12]