Chelsea’s packed schedule continues tonight as they welcome Russian club Rubin Kazan to Stamford Bridge. Facing their third match in six days after fixtures against Southampton and Manchester United, unpopular interim-manager Rafael Benitez will be tempted to rotate his Blues squad as they continue to balance their quest for silverware with ensuring they qualify for next year’s Champions League. English defensive duo Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole will definitely sit out the first leg with knee and hamstring injuries respectively.
In this competition, much for Chelsea will continue to depend upon the out-of-sorts Fernando Torres. The beleaguered Spanish forward has never looked quite capable of justifying his hefty £50 million price tag since arriving in west London in January 2011, but he remains Benitez’s only real striking option in the Europa League due to Demba Ba’s ineligibility. The Senegalese frontman represented former club Newcastle in the group stages.
Rubin Kazan may represent somewhat of an unknown quantity to Chelsea supporters, but the club have an impressive pedigree in this season’s Europa League. Having toppled Inter to top Group H, Kurban Berdyev’s men continued their excellent form by disposing of holders Atletico Madrid in the round of 32. Chelsea’s patched-up backline will need to be wary of striker Jose Rondon, the Venezuelan is the second highest scorer left in the competition with five goals since the start of the group stage.
KICK-OFF: Thursday, 8.05pm
Chelsea and Rubin Kazan have never met in competitive action.
Chelsea have been victorious in all four of their previous games against Russian opposition.
Benitez and Spurs boss Andre-Villas Boas are the only managers remaining in this season’s Europa League who have won the competition previously.
Rubin Kazan have not lost in five European away games this season. They have won two and drawn three of their fixtures away from Central Stadium.
Rubin Kazan goalkeeper Sergey Ryzhikov has made 40 saves in this season’s Europa League, more than any other goalkeeper.
Chelsea to win: 1.56
Rubin Kazan to win: 7.4
TV: Live on ESPN at 8.05pm.