Rubin Kazan vs. Chelsea: Preview
Ian Walton/Getty Images
Venue: Luzhniki Stadium
Kickoff: 5 p.m. GMT, noon ET, 9 a.m. PT
Rafa Benitez's Chelsea travel to Moscow to face Rubin Kazan on Thursday knowing that anything other than a major upset will see them progress to the Europa League semifinal to face either FC Basel or London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Indeed, the first leg of this quarterfinal was such a one-sided affair in London last week that the Blues should have been way out of sight.
As it is, they currently lead the tie 3-1 on aggregate courtesy of a Fernando Torres brace and Victor Moses strike, giving them a commanding lead. It was a debatable penalty decision at Stamford Bridge that sowed the seeds of doubt, however, after Bibras Natkho converted from 12 yards following a John Terry hand ball.
That away goal for the Russians could prove incredibly useful on home soil, knowing a 2-0 win will secure their passage to the semis.
The form book
Even speaking to Barcelona or Manchester United fans on a big European night, there is always an air of skepticism. It will be no different for Chelsea on Thursday.
That said, it's against the so-called lesser teams in less important outings that the Blues have come unstuck this season. With a semifinal place up for grabs—bringing them one step closer to the Europa League Final in Amsterdam—there's no doubting the Blues will rise to the occasion.
They have done just that in recent weeks, with the 2-1 defeat against Southampton in the Premier League on March 30 the only black mark on an otherwise perfect record in the past month or so.
Chelsea defeated Manchester United 1-0 in their FA Cup quarterfinal replay leading into the first leg bout with Rubin Kazan. They followed up their 3-1 victory last Thursday with another win, this time a 2-1 defeat of Sunderland on Sunday.
Rubin themselves are also in good form in Russia, remaining undefeated in their past four outings. Sitting in fourth place in the league, they draw 0-0 with Kuban at the weekend, who themselves are going strong in sixth.
That draw comes on the back of impressive wins against Zenit St. Petersburg and Lokomotiv Moscow, meaning they have not lost in domestic competition throughout 2013.
Fernando Torres will be itching to get at the Rubin back line once more on Thursday. He scored twice against the Russians last week and, appearing from the bench against Sunderland, it was evident he had a spring in his step, helping assist Chelsea's equalizer.
The Spaniard is one goal shy of 20 this term—not bad for a striker apparently past his best, so there's every possibility he will reach that seasonal milestone in Moscow.
The Rubin defence will be wary of him, too. His display in the first leg was akin to the Torres of old, although even the 29-year-old will admit he has a long way to go before he can claim to be back to his goalscoring best.
He appeared from the bench at Stamford Bridge in the first leg, but expect Jose Rondon to be among the starters for Rubin in Moscow this time out.
The Venezuelan leads the scoring charts for his club this term with 10 in total. Of those, five have come in the league with an equal number in Europe, so he is a potent threat. Chelsea just have to look at the two goals he scored against Inter Milan in the group stage as Rubin gunned down the Italians 3-0, to recognize the threat he carries.
His inclusion will mean the Blues' two-goal cushion may not feel as comfortable as it seems.
Who will go through to the Europa League semifinal on Thursday?
Rubin Kazan: Sergei Ryzhikov; Oleg Kuzmin, Roman Sharanov, Ivan Marcano, Cesar Navas; Pablo Orbaiz, Bibras Natkho; Gokdeniz Karadeniz, Roman Eremenko, Alan Kasaev; Jose Rondon
Chelsea: Petr Cech; Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, John Terry, Ryan Bertrand; John Mikel Obi, Frank Lampard; Yossi Benayoun, Juan Mata, Victor Moses; Fernando Torres
Rubin Kazan 1-2 Chelsea
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