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Chelsea: 5 Clubs the Blues Will Want to Avoid in the Europa League

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 5, 2012

Chelsea: 5 Clubs the Blues Will Want to Avoid in the Europa League

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    On Wednesday, Chelsea became the first holders of the Champions League title to be eliminated from the competition at the group stage.

    Luckily for Chelsea, who will enter the knockout round of the Europa League, they avoided the same fate as Manchester City, who were knocked out of all European competitions on Tuesday.

    The knockout round of the Europa League consists of 32 clubs, 12 group-stage winners, 12 second-place finishers in the group stage and the eight third-place clubs from the Champions League group stage. 

    The draw for the Europa League group stage will occur on December 20th, and the Blues will be put in the section of seeded clubs with the 12 group winners from the Europa League and fellow UCL third-place finishers Cluj, Olympiacos and Benfica. 

    Here are five clubs that Chelsea want to avoid at all costs when the draw for the Europa League knockout round is made. 

Ajax

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    Ajax finished in third place in the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League version of the group of death. 

    The defending Dutch champions could only manage to take points from Group D bottom-feeders Manchester City.

    Those four points were enough to beat out City for third place in the group and to advance into the Europa League group stage.

    Ajax boast a strong young core led by Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Ryan Babel that is as strong as any group of players in the final 32 of the Europa League. 

    Ajax will not be afraid of going into Stamford Bridge and challenging Chelsea for a place in the round of 16. 

    Also, the Dutch giants are strong at home with just three losses this season at the Amsterdam Arena, two of which came to Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid

Napoli

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    If Chelsea are drawn to play Napoli in the round of 32, it will be a rematch of last season's round-of-16 thriller in the Champions League.

    Last season, the Blues pulled off an unthinkable comeback at Stamford Bridge in the second leg of their round-of-16 matchup by beating Napoli 4-1 in extra time to advance to the quarterfinals. 

    This season, Napoli have been playing in the Europa League group stage and have finished in second place behind Ukrainian side Dnipro. 

    Napoli sit in second place in Serie A, only two points behind leaders Juventus, and they have one of Europe's best goal scorers in Edinson Cavani, who has 17 goals in all competitions this season. 

Inter Milan

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    Inter Milan have quietly found their way into the knockout round of the Europa League after finishing behind Rubin Kazan in Group H. 

    Inter have also found their way up to third place in Serie A with 31 points from 15 matches. 

    Inter are out to prove that their miserable 2011-12 season was a fluke and that they are ready to contend for Europe's biggest titles again.

    Beating Chelsea in the round of 32 would be a perfect way for the Nerazzurri to get back into the headlines of Europe. 

    With forwards Diego Milito and Antonio Cassano, Inter Milan have the players that are capable of taking down Chelsea. 

    The Inter defense is also very strong with Juan Jesus and Andrea Ranocchia having stellar seasons in the center of defense. 

Zenit St. Petersburg

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    Zenit St. Petersburg finished third in Group C of the Champions League and will be placed in the unseeded pot of clubs; they could face Chelsea in the round of 32. 

    The biggest player worth mentioning in the Zenit squad is Hulk, who signed with the Russian club instead of Chelsea this summer. 

    Zenit also have Axel Witsel and Alexander Kerzhakov as strong parts of their attack, and they could cause the Chelsea defense problems. 

    Zenit will also be well rested as the Russian season takes a break after December 12th due to the cold weather. 

    If Chelsea have to travel to St. Petersburg in February, they will not only be playing against a strong Zenit team, but they will have to battle the elements as well. 

Atletico Madrid

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    Chelsea's worst nightmare in the knockout round of the Europa League would be to face Atletico Madrid in the round of 32. 

    After losing to Viktoria Plzen in their final Group B match, Atletico finished second in the group and will now be in the opposite pot of 16 teams than Chelsea. 

    The last time the two clubs met was back in August when Radamel Falcao announced himself to the world with a hat-trick for Atletico in the UEFA Super Cup. 

    Falcao has not played in a single Europa League match this season, but that will surely change when the knockout round starts as Atletico will be looking to defend their title. 

    Currently, Atletico sit in second place in La Liga as the only true challengers to Barcelona's title hopes in the Spanish top flight. 

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