UEFA Europa League: PAOK vs Chelsea preview


Chelsea start their adventure in the UEFA Europa League with a difficult trip to Greece today, they face PAOK at Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki in Group L. The two teams have never met before in an European competition because PAOK have been mainly playing in the Europa League in recent season, while Chelsea have been engaged in the Champions League lately. PAOK have a great record for their meetings against English teams, they have won three out of four matches and haven't lost any as they knocked out Tottenham in 2011 and Arsenal in 1997. Chelsea have won two of their four meetings against Greek sides and haven't lost any either.

PAOK nearly pulled off a major achievement last season as they came very close to winning the title in the Greek Super League for the first time since 1985. Their impressive form continued this summer as they nearly got access to the group stage of the Champions League but eventually got knocked out in the last preliminary round by Benfica. They started the Greek Super League campaign with three consecutive wins and just one goal conceded as they defeated OFI Crete 3-1 last week. Leo Matos was sent off in the second leg against Benfica and is suspended for this match, but head coach Razvan Lucescu doesn't have any injury concerns.

Chelsea have had a perfect start to the season under new manager Maurizio Sarri, they have won all their five Premier League matches so far and only tasted defeat once as they lost 2-0 to Manchester City in the Community Shield. Last weekend the Blues hammered Cardiff 4-1 at Stamford Bridge and Eden Hazard bagged a hat-trick. The Belgium international will be rested in midweek, along with other first-team regulars, as the manager will try to rotate his squad in the cup competitions. Cesc Fabregas has not yet fully recovered from his injury, while Emerson and Mateo Kovacic are injury doubts as well and won't be part of the squad for Thursday's match.

Probable line-ups:

PAOK: Pachalakis - Kitsiou, Varela, Crespo, Vieirinha - Canas, Mauricio - Kadouri, Pelkas, Limnios - Prijovic

Chelsea: Cabbalero - Zappacosta, Christensen, Cahill, Alonso - Barkley, Ampadu, Drinkwater - Moses, Morata, Willian

My prediction: Chelsea to win 2-1, the Blues won't have an easy match, especially without several first-team regulars, but they should be able to edge past PAOK.

Here are the odds for the match at Bet365:

PAOK win - 4.75
Draw - 3.80
Chelsea win - 1.80

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