Who: Chelsea FC vs. FC Steaua Bucharest
What: UEFA Europa League, Third Round (second leg)
Where: Stamford Bridge, London, England, UK
When: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Weather: The Weather Channel forecast
Time: 20:05 GMT/4:05 p.m. ET/1:05 p.m. PT
Television: Fox Soccer Channel (USA), ITV 1, UTV (UK)
Radio: SiriusXM Sirius 94 (Internet 94), BBC Radio 5 Live
Worldwide and TV Channels: LiveSoccerTV.com
Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (France)
3-Way Odds: Chelsea -344, Steaua Bucharest +650, Draw +350
Total: Over 2½ -125, Under 2½ -109
Alternate Odds: Chelsea -1½ +115, Steaua Bucharest +1½ -150 (Bovada)
Decimal Odds: Chelsea 1.29, Steaua Bucharest 7.50, Draw 5.00
Decimal Total: Over 2½ 1.80, Under 2½ 1.91
Fractional Odds: Chelsea 4/5, Steaua Bucharest 13/2, Draw 4/1
Fractional Total: Over 2½ 4/5, Under 2½ 91/100
Odds Europa League: Chelsea 5/1, Steaua Bucharest 40/1
Source: sportsbook.com (Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles)
One thing is certain for Chelsea heading into Thursday's second-leg, Europa League Round of 16 game against Steaua Bucharest at Stamford Bridge: The Blues definitely can't play any worse than they did in the first leg.
To call Chelsea's performance at Arena Națională a week ago lackluster probably wouldn't be fair to the word "lackluster," as it seemed few Blues even cared about trying to put their best foot forward in the Romanian capital.
So with their backs against the proverbial wall, can Chelsea rally in this second leg, almost a year to the day they did just that against Napoli in its UEFA Champions League second-leg meeting?
Of course they can.
Coming off a hard-fought 2-2 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford in sixth-round action in the FA Cup this past weekend, Chelsea will undoubtedly be in a foul mood, and interim manager Rafael Benítez has an extremely healthy, talented and deep roster to work with heading into this clash.
And with the Liga 1 leaders' manager Laurențiu Reghecampf saying in the Daily Mail that his side will "annihilate" the Blues by capitalizing on the fans' vitriol toward Benítez at Stamford Bridge during the game, well, let's just say he did his club no favors by winding up the separate sleeping giants which are Chelsea and its fanbase.
With that fire clearly stoked now, expect the throngs at the West London stadium to go out of their way to back their boys on Thursday, if not their much-maligned manager.
Steaua goalkeeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu was good in the opening leg but did not face the kind of offensive attack he should see in this crucial leg, and with the boys from Bucharest having lost four straight and having gone winless to date on English soil, the stage is set for another classic European rally by the Blues.
Defensively, Chelsea will need to really clamp down on Raul Rusescu, Adi Rocha, Mihai Costea and Stefan Nikolić, but don't kid yourself brother: This club can continue the Blues' nightmarish silverware run since August with a massive upset against the English Premier League powerhouse.
But Petr Čech should again be his brilliant self in goal, and with so much at stake, Benítez just has to start captain John Terry, doesn't he?
If not, be prepared for the frenzy to follow, especially if the Blues lose.
And if anything is going to send Benítez on his merry way before the EPL season comes to an end in May, an ugly loss to Steaua here—with Fernando Torres struggling again and Terry not even starting—just might do the trick.
Who Benítez decides to start in the central midfield between Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel and Ramires is anyone's guess, but the way the young Brazilian has played this year, it would be wise to get his speed into the starting XI, then save Lampard for either a second-half rally if need be or a late goal to seal it.
Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Victor Moses give the Spaniard some nice options in the advanced midfield, and Torres will most likely start at the striker spot with Demba Ba being cup-tied.
Ranked No. 5 in the latest UEFA rankings, Chelsea should be able to somehow find a way to defeat 63rd-ranked Steaua, but the Blues will have to get off to a good start in the first 30 minutes and have the ornery Stamford Bridge crowd behind them in full throat.
And should Chelsea be up 1-0 after 90 minutes in this game, extra time will be needed to determine who advances to the quarterfinals, and if that doesn't cut it, a penalty shootout will guarantee that Blues Nation worldwide will be as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, as Steaua have won all of their past four shootouts on the continent.
Should Chelsea win, the draw for the next round will be held Friday at 7:40 a.m. ET/4:40 a.m. PT (11:40 GMT)—which will be televised on Fox Soccer Channel—setting the Blues up for April 4 and April 11 quarterfinal dates.
This is not the tournament the Blues wanted to be in at this point in the year, but with no silverware to show yet for all of their troubles, maybe this is the one to help Blues fans restore a little pride for their beloved club.
BET: Chelsea -1½ +115 (Bovada)
PREDICTION: Chelsea 2 Steaua Bucharest 0
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