This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Chelsea will kick off their Champions League campaign against Valencia on Tuesday and Tammy Abraham’s battle with Gabriel Paulista could have a telling impact on the final result.
After a year away from Europe’s premier club competition, the Blues are back in the big time. They have been drawn in a group with Ajax, Lille and Los Che, and they will kick off at home against the latter.
It has not been the best of weeks for the Liga outfit. After an indifferent start to the season, Marcelinho was relieved of his duties as the club’s manager despite winning the Copa del Rey last year. His replacement, Albert Celades, was unable to prevent his team from a thumping at the hands of Barcelona at the weekend; they lost 5-2.
The new boss will be hoping to get his European adventure off to a good start, just like the man opposite him in the dugout at Stamford Bridge. With Abraham in red-hot form at the moment, his battle against Paulista could be key.
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So far this season, 21-year-old Abraham has been on fire and is taking full advantage of his chance in the Chelsea starting XI.
In his last three appearances, he has scored seven goals, including a hat-trick against Wolves on Saturday. Although there could be some rotation against Valencia, his performances will surely make it very hard for Lampard to leave him out of the side.
Gabriel, meanwhile, is suffering at the other end of the spectrum. His three starts this term have earned him an average WhoScored rating of 6.24, which is worse than every single one of his teammates other than Lee Kang-In, an 18-year-old midfielder who has spent just 29 minutes on the field of play.
In another damning stat, his team has kept one clean sheet so far this term, which just so happened to be the only game the 28-year-old didn’t appear in.
If he is to help his side to victory, the former Arsenal defender will need to improve dramatically. From Chelsea’s perspective, they should try and get their star forward into as many duels with the centre-back as possible.
Valencia’s number five has won just 0.3 tackles per match, just like he has aerial duels. Abraham, meanwhile, has won 2.8 of the latter, displaying his prowess in the air with his well-taken header against Wolves.
Chelsea have been fantastic in front of goal so far this term, scoring 13 times in their first six matches. With seven strikes, the former Aston Villa loanee has netted more than half of his side’s total.
He will surely be licking his lips at the prospect of facing a defender who is not at his best; if he comes out on top, Chelsea are likely to as well.