4.16pm EST 16:16 59 min: “Since this match isn’t up to much, can we talk balls?” asks Peter Oh. “No, not Diego Simeone-style cojones. The match ball. I noticed that the Europa League has ditched the usual Adidas in favour of a ball made by Japanese outfit Molten. As far as I know, they’ve built
59 min: “Since this match isn’t up to much, can we talk balls?” asks Peter Oh. “No, not Diego Simeone-style cojones. The match ball. I noticed that the Europa League has ditched the usual Adidas in favour of a ball made by Japanese outfit Molten. As far as I know, they’ve built their reputation on their volleyballs and basketballs and this could be their most high-profile foray into the football market. From spikes and slam dunks to Sarriball!”
We’ve learned something there, well I have anyway, so all’s not lost after all.
58 min: In a way that … wait for it … doesn’t change anything, because Malmo still need to score twice and would force extra time if they do. But in fact it changes a lot because it’ll surely relax Chelsea and just one more goal would totally nail it.
Goal! Chelsea 1-0 Malmo (Giroud 55)
Ok, that probably does it. And it’s a good goal, Kante leaping onto a loose Malmo header in midfield and driving through a chasm in the heart of the pitch before laying left to an open Willian. His slide-rule centre is met by Giroud, who finishes clinically.
54 min: We resume, the miscreant having presumably been ushered into the warm, and while we press on with this Kari Tulinius is having a nice time –
“I can confirm that Real Betis v. Rennes is a very entertaining game
worth anyone’s time, two excellent and well-matched attacking teams
playing each other. Also, on a human level seeing Hatem Ben Arfa
enjoying himself on the football field is always a cheerful sight.”
52 min: Another yellow, this time for Bengtsson, who absolutely slices through Barkley. We have a pitch invader in the meantime and, though it be after the watershed, the camera studiously pans to Sarri. Which do Chelseas fans find the more offensive, though?
51 min: Now Christiansen is booked, though, for preventing Emerson from surging deep into the Malmo half.
50 min: Now then, Malmo win a corner after Azpilicueta heads a good Vindheim cross behind. Can they make this interesting? It’s worked to Christiansen, whose delivery to the back post is very tempting indeed, but Emerson defends it excellently under pressure.
48 min: We can see now. And we’ve just seen Hudson-Odoi cause a few more gasps with an extravagant spin on the ball, but it doesn’t quite come off and Malmo’s defence block.
47 min: Some sort of smoke bomb has gone off from the away end and we can’t see a lot, which is no loss etcetera and so forth. No doubt that will incur the fury of UEFA. Until the fog clears, an email from Ciaran Crowther that I pretty much entirely agree with:
“I believe Sarri could mould Chelsea in his image and compete for trophies if given time. But on the evidence of recent games as well as the dross his team is serving up tonight, a couple of batterings at the hands of Man City and Spurs will probably be the last straw for Granovskaia and co. And the vicious cycle of managerial hirings and firings at Chelsea continues.”
Peeeeep! Second half underway
Ok, let’s say it, this is going to be great!
If this were UK politics I’d be agitating for a breakaway group of MBM aficionados to salivate over Real Betis v Rennes, which the French side lead 2-1 (and 5-4 on aggregate) at the break. Tantalisingly poised!
Neal Butler, writing in from New Mexico, has wider concerns about Sarri’s side this season and lists them thus:
“I’m not a fan of how Kovacic is usually deployed on the left. He seems to spend a lot of time dropping back to cover for Alonso and Luiz. I’m curious as to why Kante doesn’t play that side, if Sarri absolutely has to field those two shmucks on the left side of defence.
“I also have concerns about Luiz and Alonso. I’m not a fan of the Mourinho-esque preference for Alonso simply because he is tall, and I’d love to see Christensen get his mojo back and displace Luiz – I don’t recall the opposition, but after he was at fault for goals in two matches in a row last season, he just seemed to have a crisis of confidence, and still isn’t back to the level he was at during Conte’s first year in charge.
“Other than that … Well, they are just too over-reliant on Hazard, really. Willian and Pedro seems to have become diligent, workmanlike wingers, rather than real creators. Like most Chelsea fans, I want to see Hudson-Odoi get more playing time, if only for something different on the pitch.”
I mean, look, Malmo began with a lot of intent and had a couple of decent early openings, particularly the Rosenberg shot that went just wide. But they ran out of puff after the 20-minute mark and Chelsea started using the ball with more care, without really creating much. Hudson-Odoi has looked lively in spells but you’d want that, given a chance like this. Apart from that I don’t have a lot for you. Chelsea will probably sneak a winner during the second half as Malmo, who will not score two goals here, tire.
Half-time: Chelsea 0-0 Malmo
I’d like to say that this is bound to get more exciting after the break but I don’t think that, so I won’t say it.
44 min: Vindheim is booked for fouling Kovacic after Malmo, given a little encouragement by Rosenberg’s pursuit of a bouncing ball with Rudiger, up the tempo again for a bit.
43 min: Malmo have, as predicted, not managed to keep that early press up and I’m not sure what else they have, really. They are sitting off now and allowing Chelsea to do what they want. Which is to pass. A lot.
40 min: Barkley shoots optimistically from 25 yards and forces Dahlin to gather down to his right.
38 min: Malmo now head another Chelsea corner away and it’s they, at this point, who can’t really get a grip on anything. Not that they’re being run ragged, because Chelsea are *definitely* not doing that to them.
37 min: Bengtsson clears at the near post after Hudson-Odoi’s radar-like crossfield ball to Willian is spirited along to Emerson, who delivers first-time.
35 min: They have taken their sweet time about it but Chelsea are getting a bit of a grip. Giroud heads back a Willian free-kick at the far post but Malmo hack it away before anyone can run onto the loose ball.
32 min: Hudson-Odoi wins Chelsea a corner on that right side. It’s nicely worked between him and Willian, before the latter slides a delivery towards the near post and Azpilicueta, diving in among a ruck of players, gets a touch but sees Dahlin block. It’s the closest Chelsea have come so far!
31 min: Now Hudson-Odoi brings the ball down inside his own box before scorching fully 40 yards up the flank. He’s stopped agriculturally by Safari, who takes a booking. We are, at least, beginning to see a little more of what he can do.
29 min: Hudson-Odoi causes the first “ooohs” of the night with a lovely bit of skill to lose his man in midfield. He’s had his lively moments, but also one sloppy bit of play that almost cost his team dearly.
28 min: I’ll say it again, Malmo aren’t good enough to capitalise on this but Chelsea are very, very panicky whenever they are pressured on the ball. They have hardly constructed a thing here, really.
26 min: Malmo win a promising throw-in, again because of their ferocious press, but the return pass is laid straight out of play. It’s become that sort of night.
24 min: Still not a lot happening. Chelsea are not exactly constructing things at speed. Heard that before? Malmo, still keen, are winning more than their fair share of the 50/50s but their threat has dulled a bit.
22 min: A quite lengthy lull. I’m not going to pretend this looks like being a classic. It really needs a Malmo goal. They’re trying, I’ll give them that.
19 min: Vindheim volleys a delicious ball across goal but Rosenberg doesn’t gamble and isn’t placed to convert. Malmo have had decent ideas and good positions but I just don’t think they’ll have a finisher here. Chelsea don’t yet, either, as Barkley drills low at Dahlin after a Hudson-Odoi jink inside.
17 min: Giroud has a right-footed shot blocked by Safari from an angle, after better work from Hudson-Odoi. Then Barkley is booked for bundling over the breaking Christiansen. Chelsea continue to be a little ragged.
16 min: A long spell of
constructive, considered Chelsea possession, now, as they look to take the sting out of Malmo’s fast start.
13 min: A better bit of play from Chelsea, Emerson seeing a cross-shot blocked by the goalkeeper, Dahlin. But then Malmo come very close! It’s a sloppy touch from Hudson-Odoi just outside his own box and Rosenberg grabs the ball, sashaying into the area and flashing a shot inches wide!
12 min: Malmo are really penning Chelsea in when they try to play from the back. The home side are finding it very hard to get out although I’m not really sure how long the Swedes can keep this up for. Their league season doesn’t start for five weeks.
10 min: The Swedes have another nibble at Chelsea, Traustason hitting a snap shot well wide from an angle. They are having a go here.
9 min: Christiansen aims a diagonal towards Antonsson but it’s just over his head and floats off for a goal kick. Malmo have started aggressively, with a very high press, but it’s going to be a big ask for them to score twice here.
6 min: An awful ball from Kovacic in midfield is seized upon by Antonsson but he hasn’t got the pace to get away down the middle and inflict punishment. Then we see our first bit of Hudson-Odoi, and indeed Chelsea, as the young winger delivers from the right but sees a twisting Giroud head well over.
4 min: Malmo have the first chance to sling one into the box after Rudiger fouls Rieks on the left. A chance to torment Chelsea from one of those set-pieces? They do indeed cause a flutter – Safari’s delivery is cleared but Vindheim, driving it back in, sees his cross met by a powerful header from Bengtsson. It doesn’t drop far wide at all.
2 min: Nothing much to report yet. Chelsea with most of the early “ball”, as our rugby-loving friends would say, but Malmo have got their foot on it once or twice too.
The teams are coming out at the Bridge now. Cheers tonight, not boos just yet. Malmo are noisily repped by 2,900 away fans. It’s nearly time …
Chelsea fans, any real concerns about this one? It feels like the calm before the Sarri-storm.
Uwe Rosler, the Malmo boss and all-round lovely guy, has just been on. He says Malmo will be looking to Markus Rosenberg, the 36-year-old striker who had a rather bleak stint at West Brom, to inspire them tonight. He also thinks they can hurt Chelsea at set-pieces.
Want to see some full-times from the early games? It’s been a good night for many of the big dogs so far, meaning that we should see some nice last-16 ties as this tournament whittles down.
Arsenal 3-0 BATE (3-1 agg); Eintracht Frankfurt 4-1 Shakhtar (6-3 agg); Valencia 1-0 Celtic (3-0 agg); Red Bull Salzburg 4-0 Club Brugge (5-2 agg); Villarreal 1-1 Sporting (2-1 agg); Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 Plzen (4-2 agg); Zenit 3-1 Fenerbahce (3-2 agg); Napoli 2-0 Zurich (5-1 agg).
Still, it’ll be nice to see Hudson-Odoi, eh? Haven’t really had many chances yet to see what it is Bayern Munich are so hellbent on paying for, and really the lad needs a run of games for us to truly appreciate his gifts. But this is a nice chance for him to make a difference against moderate opponents and perhaps emphasise that he really ought to be involved more.
Note also, from that Chelsea team news we saw, that Jorginho is among the subs while Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain are there for emergencies.
That tie now seems to be over, though, as the German side have scored again within moments of Shakhtar hitting the bar! Told you it was fun. I’d be very interested to see them up against Chelsea or Arsenal.
Confession: I’m currently watching Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 Shakhtar Donetsk (4-3 agg), which is an absolutely belting game. Chelsea have been linked with Frankfurt’s brilliant young striker, Luka Jovic, who scored one of those goals, so there’s a connection!
Oh and Valencia v Celtic is pretty much wrapped up too but, again, Paul Doyle is better-placed to tell you that:
Arsenal are, I’d say, home and hosed against BATE Borisov. It’s 3-0 (3-1 agg) there with 17 to play. Scott Murray will steer you smoothly through the rest before we get immersed in this one:
Team news – Callum Hudson-Odoi starts for Chelsea
Chelsea: Caballero, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger, Emerson, Kovacic, Kante, Barkley, Hudson-Odoi, Willian, Giroud. Subs: Cumming, David Luiz, Ampadu, Jorginho, Loftus-Cheek, Hazard, Higuain.
Malmo: Dahlin, Safari, Bengtsson, Christiansen, Nielsen, Rieks, Vindheim, Bachirou, Traustason, Antonsson, Rosenberg. Subs: Ahmedhodzic, Binaku, Gall, Larsson, Lewicki, Melicharek, Strandberg.
Funny one for Chelsea, this one, isn’t it? It feels like a bit of a distraction before we get around to the *actual* judgement day. They’ll … surely? … do enough against a Malmo side they managed to beat 2-1 away without being at their best, but that won’t really tell us much about the burning issue at hand: will Maurizio Sarri keep his job? A week from now, once they’ve played Manchester City in the League Cup final and Spurs in the top flight, we’ll probably know the answer to that, but I’m not sure anything we see tonight will make a massive difference.
That said! There is still a job to do and Malmo did, at times, look quite lively next week. If the Swedish team score first you can bet it will get very antsy inside Stamford Bridge. More chants of “F*ck Sarriball” (which I thought were ridiculous, by the way)? And if they don’t, and Chelsea really turn up and turn it on, then it’ll be a very nice pep before face … errrm … Pep at Wembley on Sunday.
So let’s see if we have a real game of things tonight. From a neutral perspective, I really hope we do. Do send your emails in and tell me what you’re expecting – and perhaps we can grapple a little bit with the question of whether Sarri should, indeed, be under as much pressure as he currently seems to be. Kick-off is at 8pm, UK time!