Preparing for the biggest night in the club’s young life, Krasnodar welcomes Chelsea to the Champions League on Wednesday night.
Frank Lampard’s team will have the honor of being the first to attend a Champions League group game at the Krasnodar Stadium, the club’s formidable Coliseum-style home from southern Russia.
Krasnodar makes its first appearance in the group stage of European elite competition just 12 years after the club was founded by local billionaire businessman Sergey Galitsky.
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The retail tycoon has built infrastructure – including a 35,000-seat stadium, a state-of-the-art academy and surrounding park – that Russia will envy and bear fruit when the club takes its first steps on the biggest stage.
Chelsea arrived in the southern Russian city, about 100 km inland from the Black Sea coast, on Tuesday and trained on Wednesday before the Group E game at the Krasnodar Stadium.
UEFA coronavirus logs mean the area will only be 30 percent full by the time players enter the field of play. However, the historic game in Krasnodar – a city of just over 1 million inhabitants – sold out so quickly that the tickets were sold out almost immediately on offer.
Unfortunately, 36-year-old Krasnodar manager Murad Musaev has to deal with an injured squad that has denied him any chance to use his strongest XI to visit the Blues.
French midfielder Remy Cabella, who Chelsea fans know from his time in the Premier League at Newcastle, was disfellowshipped after a positive Covid-19 test.
Russian full-back Sergey Petrov is out with a long-term hamstring injury, while Musaev said in his pre-game press conference on Tuesday he would leave it late to decide on other major injury issues.
Krasnodar fans will be encouraged when influential Brazilian winger Wanderson returned to training Tuesday night after a month with a muscle injury, while Swedish pair Kristoffer Olsson and Marcus Berg could also perform after their 3-1 loss to Spartak over the weekend in Moscow – a game in which Chelsea loanee Victor Moses scored for Krasnodar’s rivals.
A short preparation cycle before the game with Chelsea ended today with a pre-game training session. See 👇https: //t.co/gD5GUSyCLi
– FCKrasnodar (@FCKrasnodar) October 27, 2020
Viktor Claesson, another Swedish contingent from Krasnodar, are unlikely to be eligible to visit Chelsea.
Krasnodar’s coach Muasaev himself missed the first 1-1 draw in the group stage of the Champions League in Rennes due to illness, but will at least be back on the contact line on Wednesday.
Despite the injury issues, he can draw on several key players including highly rated 21 year old goalkeeper Matvei Safonov, who is perhaps the best example of the use of talent from his impressive academy.
Looted Ecuadorian full-back Cristian Ramírez, who drew an excellent equalizer against Rennes, could cause problems for Lampard’s side.
Krasnodar has experience with Belarusian center-back Aleksandr Martynovich, who could be next to Brazilian Kaio.
In midfield, the Dutchman Tonny Vilhena usually delivers steel and is capable of spectacular long-range strikes.
20-year-old winger Magomed-Shapi Suleymanov – another academic – has already lit the continent with some spectacular cameos in the Europa League.
Young colleagues Leon Sabua and Daniil Utkin can also be seen, and the attacking duo could be used against the Londoners.
Known for his forward-thinking ethos and entertaining style, Krasnodar will not seek to force Chelsea into submission but will go head to toe in the attack.
However, they have made a difficult start to the domestic season. They are currently in eighth place in the table and have lost four of their first twelve games.
The Russians finished third last season and reached the actual Champions League for the first time after beating Greek team PAOK in a two-legged playoff in September.
Unlike his counterpart in the Krasnodar game, Chelsea boss Lampard has no such injury headache on Wednesday, despite the fact that he will be able to do without Kepa Arrizabalaga and the suspended Marcos Alonso – neither of whom would have been expected.
Brazilian central defender Thiago Silva has not yet traveled to Russia. Lampard is likely interested in managing playtime for the 36-year-old star.
Silva’s absence could offer Antonio Rüdiger a chance to get off to a rare start after Lampard signaled in his pre-game comments on Tuesday that he hadn’t tried to freeze the German despite reports to the contrary.
Lampard, who last traveled to Russia as a Chelsea player to play a 2013 Europa League quarter-finals against Rubin Kazan, may find it embarrassing to attack Krasnodar Fortunes after Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic returned from injury in in recent weeks as a supplement to the threat posed by the recently arrived German duo Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.
Like Krasnodar, Chelsea started Group E 0-0 against Sevilla on Stamford Bridge.
That was a rare goal for Lampard’s men, and another goalless draw with Manchester United followed at the weekend.
In Russia, Lampard will likely face a more offensive 4-3-3 if he’s looking for a first group stage win in a game where they’ll be favorites to win.
One thing Chelsea won’t struggle with is the stereotype of freezing temperatures in Russia at the end of October: due to its southern location, Krasnodar is expected to have a mild 20C around kick-off time.
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