Silva replacement selected, Aubameyang decision made – Predicted Chelsea team vs Dinamo Zagreb

Silva replacement selected, Aubameyang decision made – Predicted Chelsea team vs Dinamo Zagreb

Chelsea begin their Champions League group stage campaign with a clash against Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb at the Stadion Maksimir
Chelsea’s players train ahead of their Champions League opener against Dinamo Zagreb
Chelsea’s players train ahead of their Champions League opener against Dinamo Zagreb

It’s in Zagreb that Chelsea begin their quest to once again be crowned champions of Europe. There is a long way to go and plenty of hurdles to navigate along the way, of course, but Thomas Tuchel has proved himself an expert in cup competitions, so optimism should be high among the Blues fanbase.

A clash at the Stadion Maksimir against Dinamo Zagreb comes this evening. It’s Chelsea’s Champions League opener and one that they are heavy favourites to win. But Tuchel knows the pitfalls and the pressure that comes with any European away fixture. He will not be taking anything for granted.

“We are ourselves in a moment where we need to improve, we are not fully happy with the results, with our performances,” the German coach said. “We need to take the next step. It’s the Champions League, very exciting.

“We are very aware of what the challenge is to play in a first match away in a group stage. It’s difficult. It can end up in complicated situations but I think it’s very important that we accept it and play a humble match, don’t get stuck in our own expectations. We will accept the fight and the challenge and then we can also have the belief and trust we are able to win. We need to perform, for sure.”

Chelsea’s players arrived in Croatia early yesterday afternoon and trained at the Stadion Maksimir yesterday evening. Back at the team hotel, Tuchel and his coaches will have then outlined the team that would start tonight’s fixture. And there are some tricky calls to make.

Edouard Mendy’s form during the early weeks of the campaign has been shaky – a late mistake against West Ham on Saturday didn’t prove costly after VAR deemed Jarrod Bown had fouled the Senegal international in the build-up to Maxwel Cornet’s late equaliser.

Yet Tuchel is unlikely to take Mendy out of his side. “It’s [goalkeeper] a very sensitive position in football in general,” Tuchel said. “And not everything is about pure quality and decision making, it’s also about the feel, that you feel the confidence. Sometimes it’s also having luck as well.

“Somebody sent me an interesting quote about Napoleon, who asked his generals that they should not only have the best quality but also that they are lucky generals. This is also what you need from leaders and goalkeepers, and that they have a kind of momentum in which if they make a little mistake, it’s not punished.

“He at the moment gets punished a lot for not a lot that he does wrong. But there are no doubts in my mind, the situation is calm, we have two fantastic goalkeepers, two fantastic guys. We are aware of it that he is in that kind of situation but first, we deal inside.”

There is a decision for Tuchel to make in his defence given Thiago Silva hasn’t travelled with the squad to Croatia; the 37-year-old Brazilian has been given the opportunity to rest and recuperate at Cobham ahead of the west London derby against Fulham at the weekend.

That will likely present an opportunity for Cesar Azpilicueta to return to the side and his European experience may prove important given a highly-charged atmosphere is expected. The Chelsea skipper should step in on the right of the back three with summer signing Wesley Fofana moving into the central role and Kalidou Koulibaly on the left.

Reece James, fresh off signing a new six-year contract with Chelsea, will start at right wing-back. On the opposite flank should be Ben Chilwell. The England international has had to stay patient during the early weeks of the campaign after the arrival of Marc Cucurella from Brighton, but the impact he made off the bench against West Ham should ensure a start in Zagreb.

Jorginho didn’t start Saturday’s victory and should come back into the midfield. Mateo Kovacic has been struggling with a knee issue so far this term but on his return to Dinamo, the club at which he started his career, the Croatian will be desperate to named in the side.

There are decisions for Tuchel to make as to who starts within his attack. Raheem Sterling is a guarantee but whether Tuchel throws Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in as his No. 9 is a difficult call, especially as the 33-year-old would have to play in a mask having suffered a jaw injury during an assault by an armed gang while still a Barcelona player.

“If there comes an issue [with his mask] we will not put him in the team,” Tuchel said in his pre-match press conference. “There was no issue yesterday (Monday) and I hope there will not be an issue in training today. Is he ready to start? Of course, he cannot play 90 minutes.

“It’s on us to take a decision on how we manage the minutes. He needs minutes to get his full fitness and rhythm. It’s on us to find a solution if he comes from the bench or if he starts.”

Given that Aubameyang is a signing Tuchel pushed for, it would come as no surprise to see the striker in the starting XI; the quicker he gets up to speed, the greater his potential impact. Who then completes the front three is difficult to predict, with Kai Havertz, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, and Armando Broja all in contention.

Given his goal at the weekend from the substitutes’ bench, Havertz may get the nod. The German could be used off the right with Aubameyang through the middle and Sterling playing in his preferred role off the left.

Predicted Chelsea side: Mendy; Azpilicueta, Fofana, Koulibaly; James, Kovacic, Jorginho, Chilwell; Havertz, Aubameyang, Sterling

Leave a Comment