Malmo v Chelsea: Blues will be made to work hard
Chelsea suffered a humiliating mauling at Manchester City, but how will they respond in the Europa League? Kevin Hatchard believes Malmo will give them a tough game.
"Chelse have lost their last four away games without scoring a single goal, and they haven't won a Europa League road match by more than a goal this season."
Malmo v Chelsea
Thursday 14 February, 20:00
Live on BT Sport
Malmo progress an echo of their glory days
Typically for him, John Robertson went on an elusive run down the left flank, and delivered the perfect cross. Trevor Francis arrived at the far post with precision timing, and his stooping header propelled the ball past goalkeeper Jan Moller. That's how the 1979 European Cup final was won by Nottingham Forest, as they edged out Malmo 1-0 in Munich. Despite the pain of defeat, Malmo had achieved something extraordinary, and they remain the only club from the Nordic countries to reach a major European final.
While they are a long way from repeating that feat, Malmo can be delighted by what they've achieved in continental competition this term. They suffered just one defeat in the Europa League group stage, and caused a real upset on Matchday Six as they won 1-0 at Besiktas to knock the Turkish giants out. They are unbeaten in eight Europa league home matches, and they haven't lost a competitive game at all since late September.
Malmo finished third in last season's Allsvenskan, and their manager knows Chelsea well. Uwe Rosler was a player for Manchester City and Southampton, and had coaching spells with four different English clubs, including Leeds United and Brentford. Rosler is convinced his team has the right mentality for this challenge, he believes the crowd will play their part, and he says everyone in the squad is desperate to play.
Malmo are effectively in pre-season, and have no injury concerns. Mikael Antonsson is a dangerman in attack, as he scored in Malmo's last three group games. His potential strike partner Markus Rosenberg has a strong CV, having represented both Ajax and Werder Bremen, and he is still going strong at the age of 36.
Chelsea reeling, with faith in Sarri-ball at a low ebb
It was bad enough being demolished 4-0 at Bournemouth, but Chelsea's demoralising dismemberment at Manchester City has raised serious questions about the potential longevity of Maurizio Sarri's reign at the club. It was always going to take time for the former Napoli boss to bring about such a stylistic change, but after a strong start to the campaign, the Blues have gone backwards.
A stark choice now faces Chelsea's powerbrokers - sick or twist. Revert to the usual boom-and-bust cycle that has delivered trophies but also plenty of angst and controversy, or actually keep faith with Sarri, and allow him to at least fully teach his players how to carry out his orders. With Chelsea now facing a fierce fight for fourth with Manchester United and Arsenal, it'll be interesting to see if and when they prioritise the Europa League, as the winners of the trophy claim a place in the Champions League.
Sarri no longer has his trusty Europa League quarterback Cesc Fabregas at his disposal, so he may have to turn to Jorginho as his tempo regulator, or perhaps finally deploy N'Golo Kante in his most natural position at the heart of midfield. Youngsters Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi may be handed starting spots.
Malmo to keep Chelsea at arm's length
Malmo are fresh, have put together a long unbeaten run and are helped by Chelsea's recent away form. The Blues have lost their last four away games without scoring a single goal, and they haven't won a road match by more than a goal since late October. In the Europa League, they won 1-0 at PAOK and BATE Borisov, and drew 2-2 at Vidi.
I'll give Malmo a headstart by backing them +1.0 & +1.5 on the Asian Handicap at [1.97].
Unders worth considering at odds-against
Chelsea have stopped scoring on the road, and three of their six UEL games so far have seen an Under 2.5 Goals bet land. Six of Malmo's last nine competitive matches have featured fewer than three goals, and in six of their last nine games at the Swedbank Stadion, they kept a clean sheet.
On that basis, Under 2.5 Goals is worth considering at [2.28].
Back Malmo +1.0 & +1.5 on the Asian Handicap at [1.97]