Chelsea reached the halfway point of the most congested part of their fixture list with their Europa League quarterfinal against Rubin Kazan at Stamford Bridge. The Russian side knocked 2011-12 champions Atletico Madrid out of the competition and will be looking for the scalp of the Champions League winners to add to their season.
Chelsea appears to be just muddling through the Europa League and the insipid nature of their performances against Sparta Prague and Steaua Bucharest belie David Luiz’s assertion that this is a competition that the Blues want to win. Rubin Kazan is aggrieved at not hosting the second-leg at their own stadium due to inadequate pitch conditions and they will pose a significant threat with a full squad to choose from.
Rafa Benitez’s team selection will be hampered by the hamstring injury picked up by Ashley Cole, as well as Gary Cahill’s dodgy knee. Demba Ba is ineligible, leaving the forlorn Fernando Torres as the only “striker” available.
As Ba netted the winning goal against Manchester United in the FA Cup replay, the frustration at being stuck with a striker who failed to even attempt a shot at goal during the 2-1 defeat to Southampton will need to be dealt with if Chelsea are to improve on their previous performances in this competition. Rubin Kazan are unbeaten in their last five matches, and despite a disciplinary record that has seen the club receive nine red cards so far this season, they will be looking to capitalise on the Blues’ inconsistent form to gain the advantage going into the second leg.
Benítez admitted he would be interested in joining another Premier League club when his spell as the club’s interim manager came to an end in less than two months.
The Spaniard has long been linked with a job swap with Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho but the former Liverpool manager, whose family still live on Merseyside, revealed he would be tempted by an offer to stay in English football.
He said: “I like to win, to challenge for trophies. I have a top side and I would like to stay in a top side. A top side, why not in England?”
Benitez’s ever-fluctuating stock rose again following Monday’s impressive FA Cup quarter-final victory over Manchester United.
But the spectre of Mourinho’s return was raised again barely 24 hours later when former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba backed his old manager to replace the man currently at the helm.
Probable Lineups :
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech; Cesar Azpilicueta, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ryan Bertrand; John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard; Oscar, Juan Mata, Victor Moses; Fernando Torres.
Rubin Kazan (4-2-3-1): Sergei Ryzhikov; Cesar Navas, Oleg Kuzmin, Vitaliy Kaleshin, Cristian Ansaldi; Roman Sharonov, Pablo Orbaiz; Roman Eremenko, Gokdeniz Karadeniz, Bebras Natcho; Vladimir Dyadyun.
Key Stats :
- The sides are meeting for the first time in Uefa club competition.
- Chelsea have won all four of their previous games against Russian sides, conceding just one goal.
- The Blues are unbeaten in 11 European games at Stamford Bridge
- Chelsea could become the first side to win Uefa’s two top club competitions in reverse order in successive seasons.
- Making their debut in the quarter-finals of a European tournament, Rubin Kazan are visiting London for a second time, having lost 1-0 at Tottenham in the 2011-12 Europa League group stage.
- Jose Rondon is the second highest scorer left in the competition with five goals since the start of the group stage.
- Rafa Benitez and Andre Villas-Boas are the only coaches left in the competition who have won the trophy previously.
- Rubin have not lost in five European away games this season.
- Rubin winger Gokhan Tore was at Chelsea (2009–11). He helped the club’s reserve team to win the English title, but never made a senior competitive appearance.
Chelsea are the favourites to win at 4-9 with SkyBet, but a draw looks to be good value at 16-5 when you factor in the shambolic state of the Blues’ season. Whatever happens, a clean sheet is vital for Chelsea if they are to avoid more European heartache at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Aprill 11. 1-1.