Chelsea will look to keep their chance of European silverware alive this week when they take on Russian giants Rubin Kazan in their Europa League quarterfinal.
Having become the first ever defending champions of the UEFA Champions League to be eliminated in the group stage, Chelsea will be looking to rectify that with a strong performance here against Rubin Kazan, who knocked out defending champions Atletico Madrid earlier in the tournament.
Rubin Kazan will be a very tough team to play at home this week for the Blues, who will know how important getting a win is ahead of the second leg.
Russia is not an easy place to travel to during the colder months—or any time really—and if the West London club are to keep their chance at European silverware alive, they'll surely need to carry a lead into the Luzhniki Stadium for the second leg next week.
Can the Blues pull out a home victory here or will Rubin Kazan be too strong for the Blues, and continue their European frustration this year?
Read on for a full preview of this Europa League clash including all the need-to-know details, live viewing information, analysis and predictions.
Date: Thursday, April 4, 2013
Start time: 3:05 p.m. ET (8:05 p.m. British time)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, London, England
Live Stream and Viewing Information
Fox Soccer Channel, ESPN Deportes and SiriusXM FC will all provide coverage of this match throughout the United States (per Live Soccer TV).
ESPN UK / HD will do the same throughout the United Kingdom.
A live stream is available via Fox Soccer 2Go.
Europa League Story So Far
Chelsea originally started in the UEFA Champions League as defending champions, but as mentioned were soon eliminated from the group stages.
Key losses away to Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk proved to be crucial for the London club as they fell just short of qualifying for the knockout rounds.
They then played Sparta Prague in the round of 32 in the Europa League—barely scraping through 1-0 on the road and 1-1 at home. Further inconsistency was seen when they took on Bucharest in the round of 16—losing 1-0 on the road before coming back late to win 3-1 at Stamford Bridge thanks to a penalty in the 87th minute from Fernando Torres.
Less than convincing from the Blues so far.
However, the same cannot be said for Rubin Kazan, who have shown great strength—both home and away—to win through to the quarterfinals this year.
They finished on top of their group (which included Inter Milan) without a loss, and then took on the reigning champions in Atletico Madrid in the round of 32.
Rubin Kazan scored a huge 2-0 win on the road despite only having 10 men for the entire second half, and held on to win 2-1 on aggregate at home. They then beat Levante 2-0 on aggregate in the round of 16, with a 0-0 draw away from home giving them a huge advantage heading back to Russia.
Undefeated on the road this year in the Europa League, Rubin Kazan will certainly be a huge threat for the London club at Stamford Bridge this week.
Key Player to Watch: Juan Mata, Chelsea
With Demba Ba unavailable for Chelsea (per BBC Sport), Fernando Torres sputtering once more and the Blues looking at four fixtures in the space of eight days, Juan Mata will have a huge role to play in this one to ensure that Chelsea do not fall behind here.
Mata has been arguably Chelsea's best player this year, with his most recent performance against Manchester United further proof of that.
He connects well with those around him, is a brilliant playmaker on the ball and is more than capable of scoring plenty of goals himself.
The Spanish international has netted 14 goals and 15 assists for the Blues in all competitions this year, and will look to continue that here.
Without Ba ahead of him, look for Mata to push further up the pitch and try to establish himself in the No. 10 role once more. Rubin Kazan will be tough to break down, but Mata has the skills capable of bringing his teammates into the attack and creating goals for Chelsea as a result.
Three Stats to Consider
7. Rubin Kazan have kept a clean sheet in seven of their past nine matches in the Europa League. Their other matches saw them concede two goals.
11. The Blues are unbeaten in 11 European games at Stamford Bridge, and are undefeated in their past nine matches across all competitions.
2.5. There have been under 2.5 goals in eight of Rubin Kazan's last nine fixtures in the Europa League, and in three of Chelsea's four fixtures this year.
Having played essentially their full strength team against Manchester United on Monday, the biggest question mark here for the Blues will be who they line up against Rubin Kazan.
The West Londoners are in a tight race for the top four domestically and have a big game on the weekend that they'll want to be prepared for, having lost their last league game against Southampton when they tried to rest some of their key players.
If Chelsea rest anybody substantial here—which they surely will—you would have to think that Rubin Kazan should have enough to hold out at the back.
The Russians are in top form at the moment and know that it takes to succeed in the Europa League—especially against good, attacking teams. After all, they did play Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid twice and only suffered the one defeat throughout these games.
Rubin Kazan will look to keep this one very tight at the back and play for the second leg in Moscow, and they should be able to hold out a Chelsea attack that won't include Demba Ba and potentially even a few more players. And as a result, expect a clean sheet from the visitors.
The away side probably won't offer a whole lot in attack—perhaps trying to sneak a goal on the counterattack—but that will be hard to do. I think we'll be without any goals in this one, but with the Russian club more than happy with that result as they head back to Moscow.
Chelsea won't be as thrilled, but they'll know they're still in with a big chance for the second leg given the away goal advantage that they'll have.
Final score: Chelsea 0, Rubin Kazan 0
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