Chelsea vs. Sparta Prague: Blues Must Be Wary of Europa Underdogs Despite Lead
Chelsea will head into their Round of 32 Europa League clash against Sparta Prague full of confidence and anticipation about their progression to the next round.
The Blues not only see this fixture take place at their home ground—Stamford Bridge—but they also carry in a one-goal advantage to this match, courtesy of Oscar's wonderful finish against the Czech Republic side in the first leg.
Yet despite their lead, home-ground advantage and expected heavy favoritism, the Blues must be seriously wary of their Europa League underdogs in this one.
For if Rafa Benitez's side has shown anything this season, it's that no result and no fixture can be taken for granted. Upsets can emerge from even the most unlikely of fixtures—regardless of how strong of a position his team might find themselves in.
They were 1-0 up and looking good against West Ham, but the game finished in a 3-1 defeat. Dominance, at home, to Queens Park Rangers saw them finish with a 1-0 loss.
They bombed out in the Capital One Cup to Swansea City, took two attempts to beat lowly Brentford in the FA Cup and threw away leads in two of their last three Premier League matches—to cellar-dwellars Reading and Newcastle United respectively.
The evidence against Chelsea managing to somehow throw this one away is there, simply because we've seen them do it time and time again this year.
The fact that it's the Europa League and perhaps their best chance to win a title this year is irrelevant; the Blues just aren't a consistent football team in 2013. And that could well play into the hands of Sparta Prague, who were perhaps unlucky not to walk away from the first leg with a 0-0 draw.
The Czech Republic side have shown that they are a difficult side to break down in 2013—particularly in the Europa League against strong, quality opponents.
Already in the European competition, they've held Athletic Bilbao, held Ironi Kiryat Shmona and very nearly held Ajax also—all of which came away from home.
They certainly won't be daunted, therefore, by the journey to West London to take on Chelsea, the reigning UEFA Champions League holders. The weight of importance in this match won't burden them offensively, nor will the might of the Blues attack hinder them defensively.
Chelsea will still have a lot of work to do if they want to progress here, with their current 1-0 lead certainly no guarantee that they'll progress here.
The Blues need to make sure that their minds are focused and their squad is as strong as it can possibly be—right across the pitch. Because we've seen time and time again this year, that even when it looks nearly impossible to do so, Chelsea have thrown away their chance at victory.
They won't want to do that again here.
Will Chelsea have any problems against their less-fancied opponents here?
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