This lunchtime, the Europa League draw will take place Monaco. For Chelsea, it’s the first time they will be involved in a group stage draw in this competition, having previously participated in the UEFA Cup for the last time in 2002. The Blues won the Champions League’s sister trophy in 2013 under Rafa Benitez after they dropped down from Europe’s premier competition after the group stages.
Due to Chelsea’s substantial European pedigree, they will be placed into Pot 1 alongside other European heavyweights like Arsenal, Sevilla and Lazio. AC Milan and Marseille will also participate but, due to their recent poor or no-shows in continental competition, they’ve been placed into Pot 2. That means Chelsea fans could have a trip to the Stade Velodrome or the San Siro on their hands as early as the group stages. The last time the Blues faced Milan was in the Champions League in 1999 when Dennis Wise’s late equaliser sent Chelsea through on away goals. A Chelsea side managed by Carlo Ancelotti was defeated in France on the club’s last visit to Marseille during the Champions League group stages in 2010.
Above the Border
Having both qualified via the play-offs last night, Celtic and Rangers will both be in a different pot to Chelsea, making a first ever meeting between the Blues and a Glasgow club very possible. Despite never facing each other competitively, Chelsea and Rangers formed a historic bond with each other during the 20th century. Ties between the clubs go back to Chelsea’s first ever home strip; some old Rangers shirts brought down below the border at the start of the century. An allegiance has connected the two clubs ever since and Chelsea travel to Ibrox every few years to play a pre-season friendly.
Familiar Faces and New Opponents
The Blues last faced Turkish side Fenerbahce during the 2007/08 Champions League quarter-finals on the way to Chelsea’s first ever Champions League final. Goals from Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack saw Avram Grant’s team overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg in Istanbul. As for Chelsea’s last Europa League run six seasons ago, their semi-final opponents Basel sit alongside them in Pot 1 while Sparta Prague, Steaua Bucherest and Rubin Kazan have all failed to qualify. Not many familiar faces lie in Pots 3 or 4 either. Vorskla Poltova hail from Ukraine, FK Jablonec are from the Czech Republic while F91 Dudelange are champions of Luxembourg.
Even if it means a tougher group, Maurizio Sarri may prefer to face teams from neighbouring countries in order to cut out the massive air miles that would come with a trip to Qarabag for example. French clubs Bordeaux and Rennes sit in Pot 3 alongside Real Betis of Spain and RB Leipzig and Frankfurt of Germany. The schedule of playing on a Thursday and then a Sunday has proved to be very demanding for English clubs in the past so Chelsea fans may see very different teams lining up in the two competitions.
Chelsea’s Dream Draw: Genk, FC Zurich, Slavia Prague
Chelsea’s Nightmare Draw: Marseille, RB Leipzig, Rangers
Most Air Miles: Astana (Kazakhstan), Qarabag (Azerbaijan), Akhisarspor (Turkey)