4.55pmHello and welcome to Sports Mole‘s live coverage of the Europa League encounter between PAOK and Chelsea. Both teams would rather be competing in the Champions League, but this competition represents a chance to have a run at glory in Baku in May. Let’s see who features in each starting lineup…
4.57pmCHELSEA XI: Arrizabalaga; Zappacosta, Christensen, Rudiger, Alonso; Jorginho, Kante, Barkley; Willian, Pedro, Morata
CHELSEA SUBSTITUTES: Caballero, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Loftus-Cheek, Moses, Giroud
4.59pmPAOK XI: Paschalakis; Vierinha, Khacheridi, Varela, Tosca; Mauricio, Shakhov, Wernbloom; Jaba, El Kaddouri, Pelkas
PAOK SUBSTITUTES: Rey, Prijovic, Crespo, Limnios, Biseswar, Warda, Canas
5.03pmLet’s start with Chelsea as Sarri opts against making mass changes to his starting lineup. It’s a big surprise because this appeared to be the chance for some of the team’s fringe members to be given 90 minutes. Nine of the starters have all began at least two Premier League fixtures this season.
5.05pmOnly Davide Zappacosta and Andreas Christensen have come in from the cold, with Zappacosta replacing Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back and Christensen taking the place of David Luiz, who has remained in West London.
5.07pmRoss Barkley plays instead of Mateo Kovacic, who has also been left in England’s capital as he nurses a minor knock. It is another show of faith in Barkley who is looking to put together a run of games in the Blues first team. This will be the playmaker’s fourth start of the campaign in all competitions.
5.09pmEthan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi have both travelled to Greece with the first-team squad, but the two youngsters are nowhere to be seen in Sarri’s 18-man squad. They are perhaps being saved for later in the group stages, but most Blues supporters would have been hoping to see the pair this evening.
5.11pmCesc Fabregas and Ruben Loftus-Cheek also appeared in line for starts tonight, but they are only selected on the bench. Sarri may look to get some minutes into their legs in the second half with the duo having been nursing injuries over the past couple of weeks.
5.13pmLet’s turn our attention to PAOK as Razvan Lucescu decides to name top goalscorer Aleksandar Prijovic on the substitutes’ bench. Dimitris Pelkas has been selected in his place.
5.15pmHowever, there is no place on the bench for former Arsenal frontman Chuba Akpom. The ex-England Under-21 international has made two substitute appearances since moving to Greece, but he does not feature in the squad for tonight’s game.
5.17pmOmar El Kaddouri will be used in the final third. The Morocco international was at Napoli during Sarri’s period at the club, but barely made a start in Serie A. Jose Angel Crespo and Jose Canas – formerly of Aston Villa and Swansea City respectively – are on the bench.
5.19pmThe other game in this group sees Hungarian outfit Vidi play host to BATE Borisov of Belarus. Both Chelsea and PAOK will expect to pick up maximum points against those two sides later in the group stages.
5.21pmChelsea are competing in this competition for the first time since they won it in 2013. Back then, Chelea dropped down from the Champions League before seeing off Sparta Prague, Steaua Bucuresti, Rubin Kazan, Basel and Benfica on the way to lifting the trophy.
5.23pmJust four players remain from the 18-man squad which was named for the final. They are Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, David Luiz – who has left and returned from Paris Saint-Germain – and Victor Moses.
5.25pmThere is no doubting that Chelsea have been handed a favourable group, but this game represents their toughest assignment, on paper at least, with PAOK not too far away from earning a spot in the Champions League.
5.27pmThe Greek side got the better of Basel and Spartak Moscow during the qualifying rounds before falling short against Benfica in the playoff round. A 4-1 defeat at home to the Portuguese giants cost PAOK and left them having to feature in European football’s secondary competition.
5.29pmOn the domestic front, PAOK are well on their way to becoming the best team in the country. They have registered back-to-back runners-up finishes in the league and won the cup in each of the last two years.
5.31pmThey have also won each of their opening league games during this campaign, with just one goal being conceded in 270 minutes of football.
5.33pmThe Chelsea squad are well into their warm-up in Greece. As you can tell from the sky, the weather is already warm…
5.35pmPREDICTION! The gulf in class between the clubs would have closed had Sarri named a much-changed lineup, but the Blues should have enough quality in all areas of the pitch to start their European campaign with a comfortable win in Greece. Chelsea to prevail 3-1.
5.37pmHEAD TO HEAD! Thursday’s meeting will represent the first-ever competitive clash between the two clubs.
5.39pmChelsea have only ever faced Greek opposition on four occasions, with the last fixtures coming a decade ago when they ousted Olympiacos 3-0 on aggregate in the last 16 of the Champions League.
5.41pmPAOK – like Chelsea – are also unbeaten in four games against teams from the opposition country, with their last contest against an English team ending in a 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in 2011.
5.43pmChelsea will begin the group stages as the favourites to win this competition with most bookmakers. PAOK are regarded all the way down at 100/1, but they have the potential to be the dark horses of this tournament.
5.45pmAs Europa League football is concerned, there are not many more picturesque settings than this one…
5.47pmWe have mentioned about Sarri including many of his regulars this evening, and the team features five players who have played every minute of Premier League football this season. They are Arrizabalaga, Rudiger, Alonso, Jorginho and Kante.
5.49pmBefore we get going, a quick reminder that you can follow Arsenal’s fixture with Vorskla at the end of this game. Like Chelsea, the Gunners will expect to make the perfect start to this year’s competition.
5.51pmIt’s time for the two teams to start making their way out at the Toumba Stadium. Chelsea have taken a strong contingent of fans out to Greece, but their voices may not be heard in what is a hostile atmosphere.
5.53pmA reminder of the two starting lineups…
PAOK XI: Paschalakis; Vierinha, Khacheridi, Varela, Tosca; Mauricio, Shakhov, Wernbloom; Jaba, El Kaddouri, Pelkas
CHELSEA XI: Arrizabalaga; Zappacosta, Christensen, Rudiger, Alonso; Jorginho, Kante, Barkley; Willian, Pedro, Morata
1 minKICKOFF: Chelsea get us underway.
3 minIt has been a composed start from Chelsea who are being jeered each time that they get hold of the ball. Already, you can perhaps see why Sarri has gone strong this evening. It may be a night for cool, experienced heads.
5 minPAOK win a free kick in a threatening position and the delivery into the area needs to be headed behind for a corner by Jorginho. Nothing comes from the resulting set piece.
7 minGOAL! PAOK 0-1 Chelsea (Willian)
7 minChelsea take the lead! The ball arrives at the feet of Barkley in the centre of the pitch and after the Englishman runs powerfully towards the penalty area, he sets up Willian who fires the ball under the goalkeeper and into the net.
9 minThe Blues have set about keeping the ball since going ahead and it is nullifying the threat offered by the hosts and silencing their supporters. Things are going very well for Chelsea so far.
10 minCHANCE! It should be 2-0! Pedro gets down the right and finds Morata with a wonderful cross, but the Spaniard heads wide of the near post from no more than 10 yards.
12 minCHANCE! PAOK win their second corner of the match and they waste a good opportunity. An outswinging delivery finds Varela, but he heads over from 12 yards out.
14 minCHANCE! The PAOK goalkeeper Paschalakis is all over the place. He should have kept out the opening goal, and the stopper has now failed to claim a corner which almost lets in Christensen to head into the net at the back post.
16 minIf Chelsea can score a second, you would have to say that they could run riot here. The atmosphere is intimidating but Chelsea are showing no signs of nerves.
19 minCHANCE! Morata looks lively this evening and the forward should probably get on the scoresheet here. Rudiger’s pass from the back is sublime – and so is the control – but his shot from around 14 yards out goes just wide of the far post.
21 minCHANCE! Chelsea are all over PAOK. A cross from the right should be converted by Christensen at the far post, but the Dane somehow sends his effort wide. That chance came after a timely block prevented Chelsea from extending their lead.
23 minThe home supporters are doing their best to encourage their side, but it is having little effect so far. They are struggling to string together three or four passes once in the Chelsea half.
25 minChelsea have had 73% of possession so far. They are sucking the life out of PAOK, who are panicking once Chelsea get the ball in the final third. A second goal can’t be too far away.
27 minSHOT! Morata is missing chances but he is not shying away from the action. The frontman turned his marker before trying to find the roof of the net from inside the penalty area, only to see his strike go over the bar.
29 minMore of the same from Chelsea who are overloading down both flanks. There’s little way out for PAOK, especially with Jorginho helping the two central defenders if a move breaks down.
31 minBetter from PAOK who put together a move down the right-hand side of the pitch, but Alonso is able to shield the ball out of play to earn Chelsea a goal kick.
33 minBarkley is impressing in this match. The playmaker looks relaxed, and that is how Sarri will want it. There is a desire to prove himself, but he fits into this strategy.
35 minYou have to admire the enthusiasm of the PAOK supporters because they are continuing to jeer Chelsea when they have possession. It has been a whole lot of booing for a 35-minute period.
36 minSHOT! Chelsea win a corner which is taken by Willian. The inswinger manages to find Morata at the back post, but the forward can’t convert from the tightest of angles.
38 minCHANCE! Again, Chelsea waste another huge opportunity! Alonso storms forward and threads a stunning pass through to Pedro. The winger takes a touch and should score when one-on-one with Paschalakis, but his shot goes straight at the goalkeeper.
40 minPAOK have been so poor in this first half. Whether the manager has got his tactics wrong or they are simply overawed, something needs to change at the break.
42 minThe home side are starting to get a bit more joy down the right flank and Alonso is perhaps fortunate to avoid being cautioned, but the final ball remains an issue for the Greek outfit.
44 minAlonso commits a second foul on Jaba in the space of a couple of minutes. I’m really not sure how he has avoided a booking!
45 minHALF TIME: PAOK 0-1 Chelsea
6.45pmThe half-time whistle goes in Greece and Chelsea deservedly lead thanks to Willian’s early goal. However, the visitors should be out of sight against opposition who have offered very little despite the pre-match expectations.
6.49pmPaschalakis should have kept out Willian’s first-time strike from inside of the penalty area, but most of the credit should go to Barkley who provided the assist. The Englishman looked his old self as he powered forward before setting up his teammate.
6.53pmMorata and Pedro have both wasted chances for Chelsea, with neither man able to convert from no more than 12 yards out. Chelsea will create more opportunities in this game, but the sooner that they add a second the better.
46 minKICKOFF: PAOK get us back underway.
48 minChelsea have picked up where they left off, keeping hold of possession and then looking to burst into life in the final third of the pitch. Nothing comes from the first attack, but it is a show of intent.
49 minCHANCE! Morata gets crudely taken out in the build-up but Chelsea continue with men over. Pedro and Barkley combine to tee up Willian, but the Brazilian fires too close to the goalkeeper.
51 minSHOT! Again, Chelsea put together another patient move but Barkley decides to take it upon himself to shoot with his weaker left foot, leading to an effort going well over the crossbar.
53 minI’m not sure if PAOK have changed anything at half time. They have barely touched the ball in these opening eight minutes of the second half. This game is there for the taking for Chelsea.
55 minAnother word on Barkley. The midfielder is absolutely everywhere – taking shots, making tackles, putting himself in areas to receive the ball off his teammates. This is his best showing for at least a year.
57 minCHANCE! Another chance goes begging! Pedro wins the ball back and crosses for Barkley, who sees a header blocked. The ball falls for Willian, but the attacker slices a volley over the crossbar from 12 yards.
59 minWe are going to have a break in play as Jaba goes down clutching his face after a coming together with Rudiger. There’s nothing in it whatsoever.
61 minCHANCE! When are Chelsea going to score a second?! Morata tees up Alonso and even though the left-back cuts inside onto his weaker right foot, he should still score from 12 yards. His effort is deflected wide.
62 minSUBSTITUTION! PAOK make a change with Warda replacing Pelkas, who has not had an impact in this game.
64 minChelsea are waiting to make their own alterations. One is expected but the other is a bit of a surprise…
66 minSUBSTITUTIONS! Sarri opts to introduce both Azpilicueta and Fabregas, who replace Alonso and Jorginho.
69 minSUBSTITUTION! PAOK make another change as top goalscorer Prijovic comes on for Shakhov.
71 minChelsea continue to look the stronger of the two teams as we head into the closing 20 minutes, but will the time come when the visitors look to shut up shop and settle for the 1-0?
72 minSHOT! Not yet anyway. Pedro moves the ball onto his right foot outside of the area before seeing Paschalakis prevent his shot from finding the top corner of the net.
74 minMore probing from Chelsea and it is enough to keep PAOK on the back foot for the most part, but the home side are indicating that they are ready to commit more players forward.
77 minSHOT! Willian tries his luck from 20 yards, but his left-footed attempt is dragged a yard or two wide of the post. He has really struggled in front of goal this evening.
79 minThe final substitutions are on their way and it will not be Loftus-Cheek. Disappointment for the young Englishman.
81 minSUBSTITUTION! It’s Giroud who comes on to replace Morata. Nine minutes to go at the Toumba Stadium.
82 minSUBSTITUTION! PAOK’s final alteration sees Biseswar replace Jaba.
84 minPAOK have just had their best spell of this match, but it isn’t long before Chelsea go back on the offensive. Pedro looks desperate to get himself on the scoresheet, but he is often being blocked off by a defender.
85 minSHOT! Back come the home side with Biseswar curling a well-struck shot straight at Arrizabalaga. The Dutchman should have done better.
87 minYELLOW CARD! Wernbloom goes into the book for a late, tired challenge on Pedro in the centre of his own half. That was needless.
89 minIt is still difficult to believe that Chelsea have not scored a second goal in this match. They have dominated this game from start to finish.
90 minYELLOW CARD! Barkley goes into the book for a similar foul in a similar position to that of Wernbloom. There will be three minutes of added-on time.
90+1 minYELLOW CARD! Warda goes into the book for grabbing hold of Rudiger’s face after going down after the defender has slapped his arm. It’s all a bit ridiculous.
90+3 minChelsea win a free kick on the edge of the area after Pedro is pushed into the goalkeeper. We are going to have a lengthy stoppage, but it will likely lead to Chelsea seeing this match out.
90+5 minPedro has been helped off the pitch. It looks like an arm injury which could keep him out for a number of weeks.
90+6 minFULL TIME: PAOK 0-1 Chelsea
7.50pmThe full-time whistle goes in Greece and Chelsea have comfortably held on to see off PAOK by a 1-0 scoreline. The Blues could have won by four of five, but they will be more than satisfied with the three points.
7.51pmThat will be all from Sports Mole for this match. Thank you for joining us this evening, and we hope to see you again soon.
If you would like to read our on-the-whistle match report, you can do so by clicking here. Goodbye for now.