Chelsea travel to Romania for the first leg against Steaua Bucarest in the Europa League. We build up to this game with team news, Line-ups, predictions and more.
Chelsea take on Steaua Bucuresti in the first leg of the round of 16 clash in Romania. The London club has grabbed all the headlines recently, but not for the right reasons. Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez has publicly expressed his frustrations at the Chelsea fans who were calling for his head after just three months into his new job.
The Spaniard urged the fans to get behind the team and to ‘worrying’ about him. But this has resulted in further retaliations from the fans in their last match against West Brom, where they grabbed all the three points but with an unconvincing performance.
The Blues currently lie in fourth place in the Premier League table, just two points behind third placed Tottenham and a massive 19 points behind league leaders Manchester United. While qualifying for Champions League remains their main objective in the league as of now, the FA Cup and the Europa League is their only hope for silverware. A victory in either of these knockout competitions would go a long way into helping Rafa win back the fans.
Chelsea scrapped past Sparta Prague in their last round with 2-1 aggregate victory. The Blues needed a 90th minute winner from Eden Hazard to progress into the next round.
Rafa Benitez will have one eye upon the important FA cup fixture against Manchester United on Sunday. But Rafa stated that it is important for him to take one game at a time.
‘We will try to progress in every competition and the next game is the most important. Now we are here, to play in the Europa League, we will try to win.
‘As a manager you have to think about both matches, but the priority is this one.
‘On Sunday we’ll be at Old Trafford and afterwards we’ll concentrate on West Ham, or whatever.
‘We know that all the competitions are important and if we can finish in the top four, everybody will be happy.’ – Benitez was quoted in press.
Steaua Bucuresti on the other hand come into this match in excellent form and full of confidence. The Romanian side is currently 12 points ahead of their nearest rivals in the domestic league with just 13 rounds remaining. So their primary focus at the moment is the Europa league.
Despite losing the first leg to Ajax in the last round, they made a wonderful comeback in the second leg at home and then won the tie in penalty shoot-out. It would have boosted them with a lot of confidence and they head into this match on the back of a convincing 3-0 victory over Gaz Metan Medias (which incidentally makes it three clean sheets in row in all competitions).
Steaua Bucuresti manager, Laurentiu Reghecampf, is well aware of the fact that they have to make their home advantage count in the first leg and would look to take a good lead to London.
“It’s important to have focus. I think we have very high chances to us qualification and we can argue this: all the players are healthy and have reached a very high level of training. These matches are special, Europa League largely depends on the shape of each player. Whatever the outcome tomorrow night (both Thursday), there is a return match. It happened with Ajax, where there was no chance of anyone and we managed to qualify. Qualification definitely will play in London.
“I’ve thought about this (both the winning trophy) in the first match of the qualifying. It’s natural to think, as long as there is a small chance. Indeed, the atmosphere of the stadiums in England is different than any other stadiums in Europe. We have in our team many players with international experience, rich national, not to make trouble. First of all, I am interested to do a good match and to win the match in Bucharest, then we think the return from England, ” – Reghecampf was quoted in press.
Rafa Benitez’s squad selection for this match indicates that the Chelsea manager is concerned about the upcoming fixture against United in the FA cup. He has left out Demba Ba (who is cup tied), Ramires and Victor Moses. But the fact that he has left out Moses instead of Mata, who perhaps needed more rest than any of the other Chelsea players is certainly a surprise.
But Mata is unlikely to start in this match, along with Lampard and Ashley Cole. The trio will start from the bench. Oriol Romeu remains a doubtful for this match with his knee injury. John Terry is expected to start alongside Cahill with David Luiz pushed to a midfield role.
Steaua Bucuresti have an almost full squad to choose from in this match with only Daniel Georgievski missing out due to an injury.
Steaua Bucharest (4-3-3): Tatarusanu; Rapa, Gardos, Chiriches, Latovlevici; Pintilii, Tanase, Tatu; Popa, Rusescu, Chipciu.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry, Bertrand; Mikel, David Luiz; Oscar, Benayoun, Hazard; Torres.
Steaua Bucharest 1-1 Chelsea
Chelsea will find it hard to get anything from this match other than a draw. The English club might have the better side on paper for this match, but Stadionul Ghencea is an intimidating place for any visiting team. The atmosphere over there is unlike anything Chelsea’s players would have experienced up-till now; even Ajax would concur to that. Rafa Benitez can consider a draw a good away result in the first leg.