Chelsea must banish the gloomy memories that will inevitably re-surface upon their return to Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium for their Europa League quarter-final second leg tie against Rubin Kazan this evening. The Blues played on that particular turf during an all-English 2008 Champions League final that culminated in an agonising penalty shootout defeat to Manchester United. Rubin do not usually play their home fixtures in the Russian capital, but unrelenting sub-zero temperatures in Kazan have forced Uefa to switch venues.
Chelsea will have been largely satisfied with the 3-1 victory they achieved in the first leg encounter at Stamford Bridge last week, but the presence of a precious away goal for their opponents could make for a potentially uncomfortable trip. Rafael Benitez, who has traditionally proved a hugely unpopular figure with fans, spoke of a distinct change in atmosphere around the club following their 2-1 Premier League victory over Sunderland on Sunday, but knows one negative scoreline would likely change all of that.
Fernando Torres’ brace in the first leg will be hugely encouraging for Benitez, particularly as he will be relied upon to lead the attack once again as Demba Ba is not eligible to represent Chelsea in this competition, having played during the group stages for former club Newcastle. It is at left-back where Benitez faces somewhat of a selection problem, with Ashley Cole and understudy Ryan Bertrand both missing. The Spaniard will likely have to choose between stalwart right-back Paulo Ferreira or 18-year-old Nathan Ake. And despite Rubin Kazan’s impressive home form in this competition (they have lost three of 22), Chelsea should take heart from the fact that all three of those defeats have come in games switched to Moscow.
KICK-OFF: Thursday, 5.00pm
Chelsea 3 (Torres, Moses) Rubin Kazan 1 (Natcho), Europa League, knock-out phase, April 2013
If Chelsea were to triumph in this season’s Europa League, they would become the first team to win UEFA’s two continental club competitions in reverse order in consecutive seasons.
Chelsea have previously played just 13 fixtures in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, fewer than any other team still standing in the competition.
If John Terry plays any part in this second-leg clash, it will be his 100 appearance in European action.
If Rubin Kazan were to take Chelsea all the way to spotkicks it would be their very first penalty shootout in European competition.
Rubin Kazan’s Gokhan Tore used to ply his trade at Stamford Bridge. The Turkish midfielder never made a senior appearance for Chelsea in a spell between 2009-11.
Rubin Kazan to win: 2.78
Chelsea to win: 2.82
TV: Live on ESPN at 5.00pm.