Blues won't take BATE for granted
BATE Borisov v Chelsea, Live Virgin Media/BT Sport (KO 5.55)
Mateo Kovacic warned against complacency as Chelsea look to confirm their place in the Europa League knock-out stages in Belarus this evening.
Chelsea will be confirmed in first place with two rounds of matches to go if they win at BATE Borisov and the other Group L game, between Vidi and PAOK in Budapest, is drawn.
Maurizio Sarri has left Alvaro Morata, David Luiz, Antonio Rudiger and Marcos Alonso at home, but Eden Hazard has travelled despite only just recovering from a back problem.
N’Golo Kante was a late call-up, after Cesc Fabregas was left at home after reporting a fever yesterday morning.
Sarri defended rotating his options, insisting rest was necessary for those left at home, while Kovacic acknowledged Liverpool’s plight at Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday provided a cautionary tale. Liverpool won 4-0 at Anfield, but lost 2-0 in Serbia.
“I watched the game, Liverpool struggled a lot,” the on-loan Real Madrid midfielder said.
“In Belgrade the atmosphere is tough. It’s difficult to play there, like here. These are games where you need to concentrate a lot or you will lose the game.
“The most important thing is we need to be prepared so that what happened to Liverpool doesn’t happen to us.”
Chelsea have won all three Europa League games so far, including 3-1 in London two weeks ago, when Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored a hat-trick.
The Blues are unbeaten in competitive games this season, with the only defeat of Sarri’s reign coming in the Community Shield loss to Manchester City.
Kovacic reckons Chelsea will continue to improve after an impressive start under former Napoli boss Sarri.
“City with Guardiola struggled in the first season. It’s normal,” the Croatia midfielder added.
“We are still unbeaten and we don’t play at our highest level, because we’re still with the coach only two or three months.
“We’re doing very well because the team has great talent and we can already have a great season this year. We need to improve a lot.”