Steaua Bucharest are looking to cause an upset as they prepare to face Chelsea in the first leg of their Europa League last 16 tie. It is the first time the Romanian league leaders and the European Champions have met. Steaua already caused a shock in the previous round when they saw off Ajax in a penalty shoot out
Chelsea, arguably the favourites for the competition, will attempt to secure a first-leg advantage when they travel to face Steaua Bucaresti in the Europa League last 16 on Thursday.
The current Champions League holders needed a late strike from Eden Hazard to secure their passage past Sparta Prague in the previous round, while Steaua were surprise winners over Dutch outfit Ajax.
The home side currently occupy top spot in their domestic division having won 17 of their 21 matches thus far. That run of form has left them 12 points clear of nearest challenges Astra Giurgiu.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have a fight on their hands if they are to secure a spot in the Premier League top four this season. They currently sit in fourth spot in the table, but are five points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal.
The home side have no fresh injury concerns ahead of the match, but Stefan Nikolic could come into the team alongside Leandro Martins in attack. Cristian Tanase, meanwhile, is expected to start in the middle of midfield.
Chelsea could recall Fernando Torres to their side at the expense of Demba Ba, but the Blues are otherwise expected to name their strongest lineup as they target European success this season.
Chelsea failed to defend their Champions League title, having been knocked out in the first round of the competition in December.
But defender David Luiz says he and the rest of the Chelsea players are still hungry for European success.
“It’s a great opportunity to win another European title,” said the Brazilian.
“I have the hunger and the team have the hunger.
“Big clubs need to win titles and big games, all the players play together and we have a great family at Chelsea.”
Steaua have almost a full squad available, with just forward Stefan Nikolic (knee) ruled out.
Projected Lineups :
F. Gardoş • V. Chiricheş • C. Râpă • I. Latovlevici
A. Prepelita • A. Chipciu • C. Tănase • Adrian Popa I
Adi • R. Rusescu
Azpilicueta • B. Ivanović • David Luiz • R. Bertrand
F. Lampard • Ramires
V. Moses • Oscar • Mata
Key Stats :
- Chelsea and Steaua have never faced each other before in a competitive match.
- The Romanians finished top of their Europa League group, above Stuttgart, FC Copenhagen and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Molde.
- From their last 12 away matches in the Europa and Champions League, The Blues have three wins.
- Liverpool were the last side to face the Romanian side, leaving Bucharest with a 1-1 draw in December 2010.
- Reghecampf’s side have lost only four of their previous 20 home matches in Europe.
- Chelsea’s group of players includes 19 foreign players, while Steaua have just five.
- The average age of Steaua’s first-team squad is 24.1, compared to 27 for Chelsea.
- Chelsea’s two Europa League goals so far this season have been scored in the final 15 minutes of ties.
- Steaua have scored eight times in the last 15 minutes of European matches this season, 42 per cent of their overall output.
This match could be no joke for Chelsea as Steaua are confident of their ability to upset Chelsea. I would expect Rafael Benitez to field the strongest side possible bar Demba Ba, who is ineligible whilst resting key players for Sunday’s FA Cup clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford. I believe we will slow the match down, intentionally and hit them once just like in Prague, but the motivation and good form of Steaua at home is a key concern – 2-1 Chelsea.