FC RUBIN KAZAN
Stamford Bridge, London
April 4th, 20:05 GMT kick-off
Chelsea FC will host Russian side Rubin Kazan in the first leg of the Europa League Quarter-Final match-up at Stamford Bridge tonight. The last time Rubin Kazan visited London was back during the group stages of the 2011-12 Europa League campaign where they lost 1-0 to Tottenham Hotspur. So they will be hoping to go back home with happier memories this time around.
Chelsea have been in eternal strife this season – on the pitch and off of it. A congested fixture list has forced Rafa Benitez to make a lot of changes to the starting line-up in alternate games as the Blues prepare to participate in their third match in six days. The defeat against Southampton in their last league game has put them in a precarious position in terms of holding on to the top-four spot which is vital for the team. But they did manage to win the FA Cup replay against Manchester United on Monday and it keeps them in contention of two trophies – the silver lining to a fairly forgettable season so far.
Although they find themselves in the Quarter-final of this season’s Europa League, their performances so far haven’t been convincing enough. The Blue barely managed to scrape past Steaua Bucharest and Sparta Prague in the last two rounds and will be looking for a much more convincing result against Rubin Kazan at home in the first leg.
Rubin Kazan have been in good form off-late and have lost just one of their last seven matches in all competitions. They are currently, like Chelsea, fourth in the league table and six points behind Zenit who currently occupy the last Champions League qualification spot in RPL. They come into this match on the back of a convincing win over Lokomotiv Moscow over the weekend. But the only worry for coach Kurban Berdyev is whether this Europa League run would act as a distraction in their bid to qualify for Europe next season as they are being currently chased down by host of other clubs in the League.
This is, incidentally, their first Quarter-Final appearance in the Europa League – they were knocked out by Olympiakos in the round-of-32 last time around. But this season they have been impressive in the competition and have already knocked out current champions Atletico Madrid and followed that up with a win against Levante in the last round – Now they face the reigning Champions League winner.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Rafa Benitez is expected to make as many as five changes to the starting line-up that defeated Manchester United in their last match – and most of them forced. Ashley Cole, who was substituted in the first of the FA Cup tie against United, is set to miss the action for next two weeks while defender Gary Cahill is out of this clash with a slight knee injury. Demba Ba, who scored the winner against United, is ineligible for this match and Fernando Torres will return to the starting line-up.
The Spaniard is expected to go in with his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation once again. Ryan Bertrand will replace Cole at left back and John Terry will return to the starting line-up in place of Luiz. Frank Lampard, who started from the bench against United, is likely to replace Ramires in this match. Rafa Benitez could also tweak his attacking trio of Oscar, Hazard and Mata by fielding in Moses in place of Hazard, as the manager looks to keep them fresh.
Fernando Torres’ form is a matter of concern for Chelsea, but Benitez is left with no other option but to start with him – which means the three attacking midfielders behind him will have to share the responsibility of scoring as well. Mata has been in good goal scoring form this season and alongside Moses poses a different threat on the wings. The former Wigan man is more direct and has done well in the limited opportunities he has received so far. The return of Frank Lampard will add to the goal scoring threat from Chelsea’s midfield and he alongside Mikel will control the pace of the game.
The only worry for Benitez is that Chelsea’s defence with Terry and Ivanovic is on the slower side and Rubin Kazan have enough pace in their attack to cause them trouble – holding a high line with these two centre-backs could prove suicidal as the Russian side is more than capable of scoring from counter-attacks.
Probable Starting Line-up (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, like Chelsea, have few injury concerns of their own. French midfielder Yann M’Vila and striker Alexander Ryazantsev are unavailable for this match. There are some concerns about the fitness of Alan Kasaev – although he is expected to make it to the bench.
Their top scorer in the Europa League, Jose Rondon, who was used as a substitute in the match last weekend, will return to the starting line-up once again. But Kurban Berdyev has a selection headache considering the fact that Vladimir Dyadyun performed well against Lokomotiv and scored the team’s second goal of the match. Interestingly, Berdyev did play with two upfront against Zenit few matches back, changing his formation from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2, but Eremenko was played ahead alongside Rondon in that match. Rubin are unlikely to play with two strikers against Chelsea away from home, hence Rondon might get the nod ahead of Dyadyun.
The other man to watch out for is Rubin Kazan midfielder Bebras Natcho, who has been in impressive form recently – both with club and country. Rubin will look to use the pace of Rondon and Karadeniz to run in-behind the slow centre-backs of Chelsea, while Eremenko and Natcho will provide the creativity from midfield.
Kurban Berdyev is also likely to field Roman Sharonov, who normally plays as the centre-back, as a defensive midfielder alongside Pablo Orbaiz. Their duel with Mata and Oscar could very well decide the outcome of this fixture.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Sergei Ryzhikov; Cesar Navas, Oleg Kuzmin, Vitaliy Kaleshin, Cristian Ansaldi; Roman Sharonov, Pablo Orbaiz; Roman Eremenko, Gokdeniz Karadeniz, Bebras Natcho; Jose Salomon Rondon.
- 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
- Rubin have not lost in five European away games this season.
- Jose Rondon is the second highest scorer left in the competition with five goals since the start of the group stage.
Facts Courtesy Chelseafc360.
Player To Watch Out For
Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
The veteran might be nearing the end of his successful career at Stamford Bridge, and is already a legend among the fans, but he still shows no sign of slowing down as a player – which makes Chelsea decision to not offer him a new contract sound even more ridiculous. Even at the age of 34, he has already scored 12 goals in the league this season in just 17 starts (along with five substitute appearances) and is currently the top scorer in the league for Chelsea. Remember, he has scored more than Hazard and Fernando Torres. The English midfielder is determined to finish his Chelsea career on a high if this does turn out to be his last campaign in that famous jersey.
Chelsea 2 – 1 Rubin Kazan
Despite a tight schedule and lot of changes to the starting line-up Chelsea should win this match, but their defence will falter once again and Rubin Kazan is likely to grab a crucial away goal. It will be a tight match, with Chelsea winning it 2-1 due to the home advantage.