Hello and welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the Europa League
meeting between Chelsea
and BATE Borisov
at Stamford Bridge. The Blues have beaten PAOK and Videoton in their opening two Group L matches and are now looking to make it three from three as they welcome the champions of Belarus to West London.
The Blues have taken control of Group L and can take a giant step towards a place in the last 32 with victory tonight, so it will be interesting to see what type of side Maurizio Sarri
fields. The Italian has named stronger-than-expected lineups in both European outings so far this term, and he hinted that would remain the case for this showdown with third seeds BATE.
CHELSEA TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Kepa; Zappacosta, Cahill, Christensen, Emerson; Fabregas, Kovacic, Loftus-Cheek; Willian, Pedro, Giroud
SUBS: Caballero, Rudiger, Moses, Kante, Barkley, Hudson-Odoi, Morata
I suppose it says a lot about Chelsea's squad depth this season that Sarri can make eight changes and still field an extremely strong starting lineup. Three players remain from the action-packed 2-2 draw with Manchester United at the weekend, then, with goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, central midfielder Mateo Kovacic and wide forward Willian all earning their money this week.
Kepa has a whole new back four in front of him, as Gary Cahill - a man whose future beyond January remains in doubt - comes in for a fourth appearance of the season, partnered by Andreas Christensen in the heart of defence. Emerson Palmieri and Davide Zappacosta are also relying on cup competitions for minutes this season, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek
comes in for his first outing since the start of October.
Cesc Fabregas has been unable to force Jorginho out of the side, but the Italian is unfit to feature tonight - not that he would have started, anyway - so this is a chance for the former Arsenal and Barcelona man to impress in the deep playmaking role. Willian is joined up top by Pedro and Olivier Giroud, with the latter having to rotate with Alvaro Morata in the early stages of the campaign. There is no Eden Hazard tonight due to a minor back injury.
Sarri was not afraid to turn to Hazard from the bench in that 1-0 win over Videoton here a few weeks back, but he will not have that luxury tonight. Morata, the matchwinner last time out in Europe, and Ross Barkley, who proved the hero in the four-goal draw with Man United five days ago, are included among the subs tonight. The versatile Victor Moses will likely feature from the bench at some point, while Callum Hudson-Odoi - so impressive in pre-season - is another option.
BATE BORISOV TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Scherbitski; Rios, Filipovic, Filipenko, Volodko; Baga, Dragun, Hleb; Skavysh, Signevich, Stasevich
SUBS: Chichkan, Yablonski, Berezkin, Ivanic, Volkov, Tuominen, Moukam
BATE are without the influential pairing of Mikhail Gordeichuk and Nemanja Milunovic this evening because of injury, but there is a familiar name in their starting lineup as Aleksandr Hleb - yes, he of Arsenal fame - is included from the off. Now aged 37 and in his fifth stint with the Belarusian champions, Hleb will come up against former Gunners teammate Cesc Fabregas - one of a few battles to keep an eye on.
Vladislav Malkevich and Vladislav Mukhamedov were both carrying knocks heading into this match and are not included from the off, so visiting boss Alyaksey Baha
is not exactly at full strength for this one. Jasse Tuominen was tipped to start up top for the Belarussian club, but he instead finds himself on the bench, with Nikolai Signevich - BATE's joint-leading scorer in the league with seven goals - instead preferred.
Maurizio Sarri makes eight changes to the side that rescued a late 2-2 draw against Manchester United, with Kepa Arrizabalaga, Mateo Kovacic and Willian the three players to retain their place in the side. There is no Eden Hazard tonight for the home side, while Jorginho, Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso are the other notable absentees from the matchday squad.
Despite rotating for European matches, Sarri has still fielded pretty strong lineups - this one no exception - and he has been rewarded with two wins from two. The Blues should have won their opening match at PAOK - arguably the most difficult of their six matches on paper - by more than the one goal, having to rely on an early Willian strike to put their first three points on the board in Greece last month.
That was followed up by a 1-0 win over Vidi through a Morata strike 20 minutes from time. Chelsea were given a bit of a scare by the Hungarian minnows here, even having to bring on star man Hazard fairly early in the second half when the visitors were starting to grow in confidence. BATE, who can be considered a more rounded side than Vidi, should therefore not be completely written off before a ball is kicked here.
Sarri is keen to get off the mark in terms of some silverware as early as possible at Stamford Bridge, and the Europa League is a competition that could well be prioritised when autumn turns to winter. It has been so far, so good in that regard as the Blues are top of Group L and well on course for a place in the bloated knockout rounds, where they will be joined by the Champions League dropouts.
Chelsea are three points better off that second-place PAOK, who are favourites to see off bottom seeds Vidi in Hungary this evening. BATE also have three points from their first two matches, so should the Blues slip up tonight the picture becomes a far less clear in terms of progression. Should all things go to plan, though, Sarri's men will be home and dry with back-to-back wins against Borisov over these next two weeks.
Wrapping things up in Group L with a couple of games to spare is the ideal scenario for Sarri, as Chelsea face Tottenham Hotspur immediately before their meeting with PAOK, while the Manchester City clash is also a few days before a testing trip to Vidi on the final matchday. Chelsea also have Premier League games against Burnley and Crystal Palace coming up, as well as the visit of Derby County in the EFL Cup, so it is very much all systems go.
Chelsea are on a 12-match unbeaten run under Sarri since losing 2-0 to Manchester City in August's Community Shield, keeping that run alive thanks to Ross Barkley's last-gasp strike against Man United at the weekend. Nine of those matches have ended in victory, including both of their opening Europa League matches, but they have been held in two of their last three league games - against United at the weekend and Liverpool earlier this month.
Despite the back-to-back home draws, Chelsea are still very much ahead of schedule in terms of their league position under Sarri, finding themselves just a couple of points behind leaders Manchester City and Liverpool. Despite having to compete in the group stage of the Europa League for the first time ever, the Blues have clearly not been affected so far as they are competing strongly on three fronts.
DID YOU KNOW? The 1-0 win over Videoton earlier this month, secured through a rare Alvaro Morata strike, ended a run of three successive European home draws for Chelsea, who are now unbeaten at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League and Europa League since September 2013. That is a run spanning 12 matches since going down 2-1 to Basel.
Nine of those 12 matches have ended in victory for Chelsea, including victories by the same 3-1 scoreline in all three of their knockout-round matches en route to lifting the Europa League trophy in their only previous participation five years ago. The Blues went all the way on that occasions under the watch of unpopular boss Rafael Benitez, and that is what Sarri will be looking to match in his maiden campaign in West London.
Chelsea remain unbeaten under Maurizio Sarri in competitive competition since the former Napoli boss took over from compatriot Antonio Conte in the summer. The Blues have been held in successive home Premier League games but still sit just two points off the summit, while also topping their Europa League group and making it through to the last 16 of the EFL Cup.
PREVIOUS MEETINGS! Chelsea and BATE Borisov have never previously meet in UEFA competition. Indeed, this will be the Blues' first-ever meeting with a side from Belarus. The visitors beat Everton 1-0 in this competition on their first visit to these shores nearly a decade ago, but they were thumped 6-0 by Arsenal on their most recent trip just last year.
BATE have endured a mixed start to their European campaign, as they followed up a 2-0 win away to Vidi with a 4-1 loss at home to PAOK. Baha's charges therefore need to take something out of these two matches against group leaders Chelsea if they are to have something riding on their trip to PAOK and the visit of Vidi. With that in mind, plenty of eyes will be on events taking place in Hungary this evening.
Borisov's victory against Vidi ended a four-match winless run in terms of away victories in the Europa League group stage. They have a mixed record in that regard as they have won three, drawn three and lost four, with one of those defeats coming up the road at Arsenal at this stage 12 months ago. The Gunners put six unanswered goals past the Belarussian side - their heaviest-ever away loss in Europe.
Olivier Giroud was among the goals for Arsenal that night, incidentally, and the Frenchman - who swapped Arsenal for Chelsea in the January transfer window - also registered in the away fixture. BATE did beat Everton on their only other visit to England nine years ago, but even that was not enough to prevent them from crashing out at the group stage - a fate that many expect them to suffer this time around, too.
BATE do still remain on course for silverware of some sort this term, however, as they are nine points better off that Shakhtyar in their domestic league with just six matches left to play. Bar a pretty incredible late collapse, the 12-in-a-row champions will surely add another trophy to their cabinet in the coming weeks, no doubt giving them a boost ahead of their remaining Europa League fixtures.
This is BATE's fourth appearance in the group stage of UEFA's secondary competition, and the second in a row, but only once have they made it as the knockout rounds - that only post-Christmas run coming in the 2010-11 season. The club from Borisov finished bottom of the pile last time out, in fact, collecting just a handful of points from their double-headers against Arsenal, FC Koln and Red Star Belgrade.
Chelsea have been efficient in their European matches so far this season, winning both games by a one-goal margin, and this match may well prove to be another grind for Maurizio Sarri
's men. BATE Borisov are tougher opposition than Videoton, who did well to restrict the Blues a few weeks back, but the hosts should still be able to get the job done here. 2-0.
With kickoff at Stamford Bridge now less than five minutes away, let us turn our attention to some pre-match thoughts from both camps.
Maurizio Sarri: "These two matches in Europe have been difficult. They've not been easy. We have to prepare our minds to play another difficult match because this opponent during the season has lost only four times I think. I think it will be very difficult as this season they've done better away from home. This match is not a big problem as we have to play after five days from the last match. The problem will be on Sunday as we have to play after 65 hours. We have to change something."
Alyaksey Baha: "We have followed all the games Chelsea have played. Videoton played well, had plenty of chances and could have got a different result. They are an example for us. We analyse the games [against Arsenal] so we learnt from our mistakes. Now, a year later we are here in England, in London, playing against a top club, and we hope for a better result this time. It is kind of good news that Hazard is not playing, but it will still be a very strong line-up. Chelsea is the kind of team with so many players that will be capable of replacing Hazard with no problem."
Sarri admits that Chelsea have found their opening two Group L matches "difficult", and another tough contest can be expected this evening. The Europa League can be a slog at this early stage - it is not until February and March that the competition truly comes to life - but getting through as quickly as possible remains a big target for the Italian. With just three days before the league games with Burnley, Sarri is also concerned about his players' fitness levels.
KICKOFF: There is a healthy crowd at Stamford Bridge this evening for just the second ever Europa League group match to be played at this ground. The Blues have won two from two so far in Group L and can move a step closer to qualification with another victory here.
GOAL! CHELSEA 1-0 BATE BORISOV (RUBEN LOFTUS-CHEEK)
Well that didn't take too long, did it?! Davide Zappacosta pulled the ball back towards the penalty spot, where Ruben Loftus-Cheek was waiting to bury the ball past Denis Scherbitsky. A tough task for BATE looks a whole lot more difficult now.
BATE get the ball forward for the first time tonight, but Emerson Palmieri is there to thwart the attack. Chelsea also netted early on against PAOK in their opener, remember, but struggled to build on that lead in a tight match - in terms of the scoreline, at least.
A perfect start for Chelsea thanks to that Ruben Loftus-Cheek strike - his first shot on target for the Blues this term in his fourth appearance.
GOAL! CHELSEA 2-0 BATE BORISOV (RUBEN LOFTUS-CHEEK)
It looked as though Olivier Giroud had scored his first club goal of the season, but replays show that it was actually Ruben Loftus-Cheek who got the final touch to Willian's corner. What a start to the night this has been for the English midfielder.
Loftus-Cheek finishes from 12 yards and six yards has given Chelsea breathing space in this Europa League tie with under a quarter of the game played. Pedro so nearly brings a long ball under pressure from Cesc Fabregas - had a tad too much on it.
That's an assistant for Willian, too, on his 250th Chelsea appearance. This has been a professional display from the Blues in front of their home fans, effectively securing the win inside the opening 10 minutes. Damage limitation for the visitors from this point on.
SHOT! Pedro is keen to add his name to the scoresheet, sending a curled shot inches wide of the target. It took a deflection on its way through; if not for that it may well have been a third of the evening for the dominant hosts.
OFF THE LINE! Well this is a bizarre one! Willian's corner is flicked on at the front post by a combination of players and looked destined for the far corner if not for Andreas Christensen, who inadvertently stopped it with his boot on the line.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is not exactly known for his goalscoring ability, but he took both chances that fell his way in the opening stages of this one-sided match. A long way to go for BATE Borisov, you feel...
Well the good news for BATE is that they have gone 15 minutes without conceding a goal. The visitors have barely got the ball out of their own half so far, while Chelsea look bright whenever they commit bodies forward.
The visitors have enjoyed their best spell on the ball over the last couple of minutes, but all that has involved is a couple of touches between the defenders and midfielders. Chelsea have enjoyed 60% of the ball over the first 25 minutes.
SHOT! Emerson with some brilliant trickery to get away from his man, starting this latest Chelsea attack. The ball is worked into the final third to Willian, who turns one way and then another before spotting Kovacic, who prodded it wide.
Chelsea's players are queuing up to take a shot from the edge of the box, with Mateo Kovacic the man lucky enough to do so. A BATE player managed to get his body in the way, but it seems a case of when, rather than if, the hosts will score a third.
A little over half an hour played at Stamford Bridge and it is fair to say that Chelsea are looking extremely comfortable. The Blues netted inside the opening two minutes and then added a second six minutes later to take complete control of the match.
CHANCE! Pedro is unable to get a shot away when unselfishly picked out by Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but the loose ball falls kindly for Willian to volley wide of goal. Not the easiest of techniques, though the Brazilian perhaps could have found the target.
Andreas Christensen suffers a clash of heads and, although he is now back to his feet, he appears a little groggy - one to keep an eye on. Sarri will be delighted with the way his side have taken control of this third Europa League outing of the season.
Loftus-Cheek, now full of confidence, wriggles past four opposition players and wins his side a corner, which Denis Scherbitsky got a strong fist to. BATE counter and Pedro lunges in to thwart the attack, somehow avoiding a booking for doing so.
This has been an incredibly one-sided game at Stamford Bridge. The Blues putting together countless attacks, but they have been unable to really test the opposition keeper since Ruben Loftus-Cheek's second of the evening eight minutes in.
CHANCE! This is Chelsea's best chance yet to add a third goal to their tally, and yet again it falls to Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The midfielder is finding himself in some great positions, but he could only glance this latest Davide Zappacosta's cut-back wide of the post.
Willian with some terrific work down the right-hand side, culminating in the Brazilian getting the ball back into the middle. Again, though, Chelsea could not add the finishing touch and their lead stands at just the two goals.
Alexander Hleb is down receiving some treatment following a strong challenge from Mateo Kovacic, who got the ball first but followed through on the man. Hleb looks in some real discomfort and will surely not reappear for the second half.
HALF TIME: CHELSEA 2-0 BATE BORISOV
Willian blasts the ball right down the middle, where Denis Scherbitsky is waiting to gather from the final serious attack of the first half. Sarri will perhaps wonder how his side have just the two goals to their name, both provided by the boot of Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Loftus-Cheek required a little over a minute to get off the mark with his first goal in European competition, guiding the ball past Denis Scherbitsky from 12 yards at the end of a Davide Zappacosta cutback. BATE barely got the ball out of their own half in the early stages and they were two down before mounting their first serious attack, as Loftus-Cheek this time got in front of his marker to turn Willian's corner into the back of the net.
Those two goals, coming from Loftus-Cheek's first on-target shots of the season, ensured that the home side were in complete control right from the off. Pedro curled a deflected shot agonisingly wide and Mateo Kovacic prodded wide from closer range as he attempted to join Loftus-Cheek in getting off the mark for the season.
Willian then volleyed over the crossbar with an awkward volley and sent a tame attempt down the middle for Scherbitsky to deal with, while Loftus-Cheek glanced wide from a promising position from Zappacosta's latest cutback later in the first half. The Blues' best opportunity to add to their scoring before half time came via a front-post flick-on, which Andreas Christensen inadvertently stopped on the line.
CHELSEA SUBS: Caballero, Rudiger, Moses, Kante, Barkley, Hudson-Odoi, Morata
BATE BORISOV SUBS: Chichkan, Yablonski, Berezkin, Ivanic, Volkov, Tuominen, Moukam
KICKOFF: We are back under way at Stamford Bridge, where neither manager has made a change at the break. Interestingly, Videoton lead PAOK 2-0 at half time in the other Group L match taking place tonight, which is good news for BATE Borisov.
BATE on the front foot from the off in this second half, winning themselves a corner which was whipped into a dangerous position. The ball bounced around but was eventually cleared. As comfortable as Chelsea have been, they are not quite out of sight.
Chelsea are way out on front on nine points as things stand, six better off that PAOK, Vidi and BATE who are in a right scramble for second place. Still 40 minutes to go here, but the Blues will surely not squander their two-goal lead.
Emerson Palmieri has done well tonight. The full-back charges down the left once again and gets a ball into the box, which is cut behind for a corner. I guess the one thing missing from this Chelsea display is a goal for Olivier Giroud.
Mateo Kovacic is left in some pain after being caught by Aleksey Rios
. The Croatian midfielder is playing on for the time being, but he is surely one of those that Sarri will consider replacing as we approach the hour mark in West London.
GOAL! CHELSEA 3-0 BATE BORISOV (RUBEN LOFTUS-CHEEK)
For a player not exactly known for his ability to score goals, this is turning into quite the night for Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The midfielder side foots the ball into the bottom corner of the net from 20 yards out to complete his hat-trick.
CHELSEA SUB! Scherbitski probably could have done better from that latest Loftus-Cheek attempt, but full credit to the former Crystal Palace loanee for getting in a shot to round off an attack that he started from deep. Victor Moses is not on for Willian.
BATE BORISOV SUB! Alex Hleb, who has struggled since picking up an injury late on in the first half, comes off for Mirko Ivanic - a player boasting 11 goals to his name this term. Callum Hudson-Odoi is also about to enter the fray.
CHELSEA SUB! Here comes Callum Hudson-Odoi, who is rated extremely highly by Chelsea supporters. The youngster, who took his chance in pre-season but he has barely been seen since, takes over from Pedro out wide.
SAVE! Calum Hudson-Odoi shows no fear as he attempts to get at the opposition defence. Victor Moses, the other of Chelsea's second-half subs, drills a pretty weak effort down the middle for Denis Scherbitskiy to keep out.
SHOT! Loftus-Cheek, incredibly seeking a fourth goal of the night, passes the ball to Moses rather than shooting when the ball was screaming out to be hit from 20 yards. Moses miscontrolled the ball and the chance went begging. Up the other end, Kepa saves Ivanic's deflected shot.
A quarter of the match to play and Chelsea simply aiming to add to their goal difference at this point. Videoton still lead PAOK 2-0 in Greece - a surprise scoreline, which leaves all three members of the chasing pack on three points.
SAVE! Davide Zappacosta has time and space to shoot - and boy did he do exactly that. Denis Scherbitski got across well to push the ball to safety, but it is looking more and more likely that a fourth goal will arrive for the Blues.
Loftus-Cheek has a second weak penalty appeal turned down by the officials. The midfielder powered into the box and may well have been clipped by one of BATE's players, but he did not look all that bothered when it was not given.
BATE BORISOV SUB! Jasse Tuominen, who I had down to start tonight, is on for Nikolai Signevich. BATE's forward players have offered next to nothing tonight - will that change following this second alteration of the night?
SAVE! Chelsea surely won't have an easier game than this all season. Yet more poor defending allows Olivier Giroud to get a shot away on the spin, which Denis Scherbitski was able to keep out. That was a very good stop from the BATE goalkeeper.
BATE are playing their best football of the night, finally starting to come alive with a little over 10 minutes of the game to go. It is all too little, too late, and even with Chelsea in first gear it is still the hosts who look the more likely to score.
CHELSEA SUB! Kepa pulls off a wonderful save, but it did not count for anything as the offside flag had correctly gone up. Chelsea's third change sees N'Golo Kante come on for Mateo Kovacic, meaning that Alvaro Morata and Ross Barkley will stay on the bench.
GOAL! CHELSEA 3-1 BATE BORISOV (ALEKSEY RIOS)
Slight disappointment for Maurizio Sarri, as his side have failed to keep their clean sheet - it is the first goal that they have conceded in Europe this season. A wide free kick goes right through to the back post, where Aleksey Rios is waiting to thump home.
Chelsea paying the price for taking their foot off the gas, which you cannot really blame them for. The visitors looking like a different team over the past 10 minutes, and it is they who are knocking on the door for a second goal.
Loftus-Cheek is continuing to look impressive as we enter the final stages of the match. BATE have edged things over the last 10 or 15 minutes and just about deserved that consolation strike, with Rios slotting the ball home at the back stick.
This game is now being played at walking pace - and that is putting it kindly. The game has been over since about the eighth minute, in truth, even if BATE did attempt to put up a bit of a fight with their late consolation.
We are now into added time, and Chelsea are not particularly interested in adding to their scoring. The Blues took their foot off the gas pretty much from the moment Loftus-Cheek bagged his third goal of the contest 54 minutes in.
FULL TIME: CHELSEA 3-1 BATE BORISOV
Chelsea may have lowered the tempo quite considerably in the final 30 minutes, but it was job done by that point and they were comfortable winners in the end. There is no doubt that Ruben Loftus-Cheek will take the headlines thanks to his hat-trick, which leaves the Blues on the brink of a place in the last 32 of the Europa League.
That concludes Sports Mole
's live text coverage of events from Stamford Bridge. An on-the-whistle report can be found by clicking here
, and be sure to join us again at the weekend as we bring you updates from a selection of Premier League games. See you then!