Europa League draw: Busy Chelsea face Russian roulette
Chelsea have been left facing a potential fixture pile-up of five games in two weeks following the Europa League draw that will include a flight back from Russia two days before a possible FA Cup semi-final.
If Rafael Benitez’s side beat Manchester United in their FA Cup quarter-final replay at Stamford Bridge in two weeks’ time, they will face the fixture list the interim manager had feared. Chelsea were drawn at home to Rubin Kazan in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final on 4 April. They then face Sunderland in the Premier League, again at Stamford Bridge, before the return game in the Europa League which is scheduled to take place in Kazan, in the Republic of Tatarstan, 450 miles from Moscow, on 11 April. However, there is still uncertainty over the fixture and if the weather is too cold, it will be played in Moscow.
From either Kazan or Moscow, if Chelsea see off Manchester United, they would have to fly back for an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday 14 April.
That is the scenario facing Benitez, who must also try and appease owner Roman Abramovich’s desire to finish in the top four in the Premier League and secure Champions League football next season.
Chelsea did, at least, avoid the other two remaining English sides in the final eight of the Europa League. Tottenham face Basle at White Hart Lane in the first leg of their quarter-final with Newcastle travelling to Portuguese league leaders Benfica.
“It’s a really glamorous tie,” said the Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew. “They’re top of their league and I’ve been to their stadium, with the eagle circling the pitch, it’s fantastic. I can’t wait. They’re actually a team I’ve always loved so I’m really looking forward to going.
“Can we win it? Yes, I think all the Premier League teams have a great chance. Chelsea have focused on it, Spurs have focused on it and so have we. In the past it has got in the way of our domestic programme, but not any more.”
The Champions League draw, devoid of any English clubs at this stage for the first time since 1996, saw Paris Saint-Germain draw Barcelona. Malaga will face Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid host Galatasaray. Last year’s beaten finalists Bayern Munich take on Juventus and chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said: “Statistically we have not had good experiences with Juventus. It will be difficult and we will need to have two good days against them to reach the semis.”
Quarter-finals draw details
* Champions League
Bayern Munich v Juventus Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona [Tues 2 & Wed 10 April]
Malaga v Borussia Dortmund Real Madrid v Galatasaray [Wed 3 & Tues 9 April]
* Europa League
Benfica v Newcastle United
Chelsea v Rubin Kazan
Fenerbahce v Lazio
Tottenham v Basle [First legs: Thursday 4 April, Second legs: Thursday 11 April]
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