Sparta Prague vs Chelsea: Preview, Team News, Projected Blues Lineup
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Chelsea have travelled to Prague ahead of their first ever UEFA Europa League match on Thursday. The 2012 Champions League winners will want to prove a point after exiting the competition at the group stage this season.
Sparta Prague have not played a competitive match since December due to their league's winter break, but they will be well-prepared for this game. They are unbeaten at home in 11 matches and will be looking to extend that record against Chelsea.
The two sides last met 10 years ago in the group stages of the 2003/04 Champions League. Chelsea won that tie 1-0 on aggregate courtesy of a William Gallas goal in Prague, followed by a 0-0 stalemate at Stamford Bridge.
Both clubs have added to their strike force in the winter window, but Demba Ba is unavailable for the Blues, having already featured in the competition for Newcastle United before joining Chelsea.
Sparta Prague's latest acquisition, David Lafata, poses no such problems for the Czech side. He was the top scorer in the Czech league in 2010/11 and 2011/12 and is currently on course to repeat this feat for a third consecutive season.
Chelsea keeper Petr Cech will start against the club he played for as a youngster, while John Terry is still doubtful after suffering inflammation on his knee but has travelled with the squad. John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses will also miss out having just returned triumphant from the African Cup of Nations, while David Luiz will serve a one-match suspension after picking up three yellow cards in the Champions League group stage.
With Terry having called on his teammates to win this competition after suffering disappointment in the Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup and the Capital One Cup, it is likely that Rafa Benitez will name his strongest side.
The Europa League represents an excellent shot for Chelsea to salvage some silverware from a season that has been nothing short of disastrous so far.
Whilst qualifying for next season's Champions League remains the priority, success in this competition would show the sort of spirit that won them the trophy with the big ears and would go some way in silencing the club's many critics this season.
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