Chelsea reached the halfway point of the most congested part of their fixture list with their Europa League quarterfinal against Rubin Kazan at Stamford Bridge. The Russian side knocked 2011-12 champions Atletico Madrid out of the competition and will be looking for the scalp of the Champions League winners to add to their season.
Chelsea appears to be just muddling through the Europa League and the insipid nature of their performances against Sparta Prague and Steaua Bucharest belie David Luiz's assertion that this is a competition that the Blues want to win. Rubin Kazan are aggrieved at not hosting the second-leg at their own stadium due to inadequate pitch conditions and they will pose a significant threat with a full squad to choose from.
Rafa Benitez's team selection will be hampered by the hamstring injury picked up by Ashley Cole, as well as Gary Cahill's dodgy knee. Demba Ba is ineligible, leaving the forlorn Fernando Torres as the only "striker" available.
As Ba netted the winning goal against Manchester United in the FA Cup replay, the frustration at being stuck with a striker who failed to even attempt a shot at goal during the 2-1 defeat to Southampton will need to be dealt with if Chelsea are to improve on their previous performances in this competition. Rubin Kazan are unbeaten in their last five matches, and despite a disciplinary record that has seen the club receive nine red cards so far this season, they will be looking to capitalise on the Blues' inconsistent form to gain the advantage going into the second leg.
The likely starting lineups are as follows:
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech; Cesar Azpilicueta, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ryan Bertrand; John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard; Oscar, Juan Mata, Victor Moses; Fernando Torres.
Rubin Kazan (4-2-3-1): Sergei Ryzhikov; Cesar Navas, Oleg Kuzmin, Vitaliy Kaleshin, Cristian Ansaldi; Roman Sharonov, Pablo Orbaiz; Roman Eremenko, Gokdeniz Karadeniz, Bebras Natcho; Vladimir Dyadyun.
Chelsea are the favourites to win at 4-9 with SkyBet, but a draw looks to be good value at 16-5 when you factor in the shambolic state of the Blues' season. Whatever happens, a clean sheet is vital for Chelsea if they are to avoid more European heartache at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on April 11.
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