Chelsea face arguably their biggest test of the Europa League group stage on Matchday One, and Kevin Hatchard suspects they'll be involved in a lively tussle...
"Three of PAOK's four home games this term have featured at least three goals, while Chelsea have rattled in 14 goals in their five Premier League matches."
PAOK v Chelsea
Thursday 20 September, 17:55
Live on BT Sport Extra
PAOK looking to recover from UCL heartbreak
Having taken advantage of Olympiakos' implosion last season to finish second in the Greek Super League, PAOK took a rare swing at the Champions League qualifiers at the start of this term. They knocked out European stalwarts Basel and Spartak Moscow, but agonisingly fell at the final hurdle. Having managed a creditable draw in Portugal against Benfica, PAOK collapsed at home, losing 4-1 in the second leg.
Coach Razvan Lucescu (son of famed Romanian coach Mircea) has overseen a flawless start to the domestic campaign, with three wins from three matches. PAOK only have seven points though, because of a sanction that carried over from last season. Club owner Ivan Savvidis took a gun onto the field at Toumba Stadium to protest a refereeing decision during a showdown with title rivals AEK, the match was abandoned, and a raft of punishments followed.
Swiss-born Serbian international Aleksandar Prijovic is the dangerman in attack. He scored 19 league goals last term, and has already racked up four goals in the Champions League qualifiers. At the other end of the pitch, Brazilian defender Leo Matos is out injured.
Picture-perfect Blues keen to maintain momentum
Apart from a sobering defeat to Manchester City at Wembley in the Community Shield, it's been a flawless start to the campaign for Chelsea and their new manager Maurizio Sarri. The Italian has delivered five wins from five Premier League matches, and the Blues sit proudly on top of the table.
Now the former Napoli boss needs to show he can balance several tournaments at once. Last season, he unashamedly prioritised winning the Serie A title, and the Neapolitans fell well short in continental competition. They exited the Champions League at the group stage, and were edged out of the Europa League in the last 32 by RB Leipzig.
Chelsea is a club that demands more than that, and the squad is deep enough to compete at home and abroad. The west London side were Champions League winners in 2012 and Europa League winners in 2013 - in the Roman Abramovich era, being involved in European competition after Christmas has become the norm. The last time Chelsea failed to escape the group stage of either the UCL or UEL was back in 2013, when their defence of the Champions League trophy lasted just six games.
Sarri has confirmed that Alvaro Morata will replace Olivier Giroud as the attacking spearhead for this game, while either Pedro or Eden Hazard will be rested. Sarri has hinted there will be changes elsewhere in the team, as he looks to keep his players fresh for Sunday's London derby at West Ham.
Chelsea a bit too short to take the win
Chelsea are trading at [1.86] in the Match Odds market, and while they have made an excellent start to Sarri's first campaign, that seems a bit short to me. PAOK have only lost one game this season, Prijovic is in good form, and the Blues will rotate their squad.
Chelsea may well win this, but I'm not sure I fancy backing them at that price.
Goals in Greece the route to take
Three of PAOK's four competitive home games have featured at least three goals, while four of Chelsea's last five matches have seen an Over 2.5 Goals bet land. Sarri doesn't do digging in away from home, so expect his side to play on the front foot.
I'm more than happy to recommend an overs bet at evens on the Exchange.
Both teams to find the net?
If you'd prefer to back Both Teams To Score instead of Over 2.5 Goals, that outcome is trading at [1.96], and you can make a case for it. PAOK have scored in every single game they have played this season, while Chelsea only drew a blank in the Community Shield, but have kept just two clean sheets in six matches under Sarri.
Back Over 2.5 Goals at [2.0]