?So, after a wonderfully emotive montage, some classy chat from the criminally underrated Blues legend Ricardo Carvalho, Chelsea have finally – FINALLY – found out their last 32 opponents for the 2018/19 Europa League campaign.
And, with the result of Malmö FF, I can attest that dreams really do come true, the seven Hail Mary’s paid off and Christmas really has come early.
It’s the dream draw, isn’t it? I’m sure it is. I mean, was I consciously, specifically yearning for Malmo FF before the draw? Who can say. Maybe in my heart of hearts. But now that it’s here, it feels like destiny. Or ‘Öde’, as they say in Sweden.
So, some things to know about Malmo. Well, for one thing it’s a gloriously photogenic city – ‘The Bridge’ proved that time and again over four wonderfully moody and ambient seasons. As for the football team, we all know they produced the incomparable (because he’s a lion and they don’t compare themselves to humans) Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but how about their current crop?
Well, Uwe Rösler (I’ve started with the umlauts so I’ll have to continue) – yes, the Manchester City legend and one-time Leeds and West Brom manager – has got the Swedish sky blues (some nice symmetry there) playing some great football, I’m sure of it.
They proved that by pipping Turkish giants Besiktas to the post in Group I, scoring, well, seven goals in six games – the 27th best total in the group stage. So, maybe not the free-flowing style I imagined then, but they’re clearly pragmatic, and effective at being so.
They had the 31st best passing statistics, with an average possession share of 46%, while ?Chelsea attempted and completed the most passes in the competition, and had the greatest share with 66%. So, clearly, the game will be played with that contrasting tactical identity in mind.
Marcus Antonsson will be one to watch up front, with three goals and one assist in the competition thus far – excluding some equally impressive starts from the preceding qualification rounds.
Elsewhere, Andreas Vindheim is an accomplished young centre half, I hear, and is the team’s joint second top scorer in Europe. Oh, and look out for Bonke Innocent, because, well, what a name. That’s about all I can muster, Malmö wise.
So, back to the ?Chels. Despite dropping a couple of clangers against Vidi – good team, IMHO – and BATE Borisov away, the Europa League has been a profitable place for Maurizio Sarri’s side thus far. As hoped, though not entirely expected given the Blues’ pedigree for not doing such, it has predominantly (though not wholly) served as platform for youngsters to display their burgeoning gifts.
Among the most benefited from these extra minutes has been ?Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who deservedly propelled himself into first-team (for games proper) reckoning with a hat-trick against BATE at Stamford Bridge. Callum Hudson-Odoi has also carved himself a niche in the European lineup, though it’s not as big as it should be, with a goal and an assist from his 215 minutes.
With Loftus-Cheek’s progress since that haul evident, perhaps the biggest on thing fans’ minds in terms of the ensuing knockout stage will be Hudson-Odoi’s ability to to use it as a similar spring board.
The precocious 18-year-old, who enjoyed a bright pre-season, and has been coveted by such giants as Bayern Munich – you’re not Jadon Sancho-ing this guy, FCB – has been largely limited to cameos, but hopefully Malmö home and away will provide him with some much needed minutes.
Elsewhere, ?Alvaro Morata *WARNING: destined to be in-vein Morata-resurgence claim incoming* – if he is even still a thing come February – could maybe, possibly use the tie to gain some life affirming confidence.
The same – including the caveat of a possible departure – goes for the estranged Danish centre back Andreas Christensen, who will have local bragging rights on the line, having been born just outside of Malmo’s architecturally connected rival city Copenhagen.
Clearly brimming with narratives that will evolve, twist and turn in the months to come, this last 32 clash promises to be a true classic – or just something you put on in the background of a particularly lonely Thursday night.
Either way, bring it on. Or, Kom igen, as they say in Sweden.