Europe increasingly Chelsea's priority

PARIS • The Europa League might not be top of Chelsea's priorities this season but, in current circumstances, today's last-32, first-leg clash at Malmo takes on extra importance for Maurizio Sarri's side.

The Italian's days in charge at Stamford Bridge could be numbered after Sunday's humiliating 6-0 Premier League defeat at Manchester City, their heaviest loss in 28 years and also their fourth consecutive away defeat.

But Sarri is still there for now as the London club continue a gruelling run of fixtures - the two legs of the tie against Malmo come either side of the FA Cup fifth-round clash with Manchester United. Another meeting with City in the League Cup final follows.

"It's difficult to accept such a heavy defeat, but we have a lot of matches coming up to lift our heads and give us hope for good results at the end of this season," N'Golo Kante said on the Chelsea website.

The Blues breezed through their group despite Sarri regularly leaving out his leading players, and he is likely to rotate again in Sweden.

With this being the close season in Sweden, Malmo have not played a competitive game since the end of the group stage in December.

For Chelsea and their London rivals Arsenal, United's recent resurgence in the league increases the need to keep going in the Europa League - winning the final in May could be the London sides' best chance of qualifying for next season's Champions League.

Unai Emery's Arsenal are in Barysaw to play Bate Borisov. The Belarusian champions, who won the last 13 league titles but lost home and away to Chelsea in the group phase, should not be a match for the Gunners.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MALMO V CHELSEA

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2019, with the headline 'Europe increasingly Chelsea's priority'. Print Edition | Subscribe