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Chelsea fans were disappointed with the club’s dismal performances in the Champions League this season but after their good showing in the Europa League, Blues supporters are hoping that the club can win the second tier European tournament this season to salvage some pride. The Blues stabilized their shaky league campaign with a victory over West Brom last weekend and they also have an FA Cup clash with Manchester Untied to look forward to at the weekend. The Blues will hope to establish a strong lead when they visit Romanian side Steaua Bucuresti in the first leg of the Round of 16 fixture but Steaua have pushed aside Dutch champions Ajax on their way to the last 16 and Chelsea will have a fight on their hands when they visit Arena Nationala this Thursday.
Steaua Bucuresti have dominated the Romanian Liga I, opening up a 12 point lead at the top of the table with 13 games left in the season. The Bucharest based club have also had a strong run in the Europa League as they finished at the top in a group with good sides Stuttgart, Copenhagen and Molde. They also overturned a 2 goal deficit against Ajax to dump the Dutch giants out of the competition on penalties in the round of 32 and will be looking to upset the Champions League title holders.
This is the first time that the two sides come face to face with Steaua having their glory years in Europe in the late 1980s whereas Chelsea’s epic triumph came just last season. Chelsea have a much stronger line-up on paper although Steaua are a tough side at home and it will be an exciting contest when the Blues make the trip to Romania this week.
Steaua are all but certain to claim the Romanian league title this season as they cruise at the top of the table with a 12 point lead over second placed Astra Giurgiu. They have also been great performers in the Europa League, topping Group E claiming 11 out of 18 points. Steaua ousted current Dutch champions Ajax by overturning a 2 goal first leg deficit with a sensational performance at home and they will be looking to make home advantage count when Chelsea come visiting this Thursday.
Steaua forward Raul Rusescu has been the top scorer in the Romanian league with 18 goals and has even claimed 3 goals in the Europa League so far. Brazilian striker Adi Rocha has also netted 7 league goals this season and midfielders Iasmin Latovlevici and Alexandru Chipciu have also borne the goalscoring burden in the European competition.
Steaua are on a three game clean sheet streak and they will be keen on denying the Blues any away goals on Thursday. Steaua have already knocked out Ajax at the Arena Nationala and they will be hoping to inflict a similar fate on Chelsea although the Blues are a much stronger attacking unit as compared to the Dutch champions. Steaua have claimed the Champions League in 1985-86 and manager Laurentiu Reghecampf will be looking forward to demolishing Chelsea en route to a Europa League triumph this season.
After a disheartening loss to Man City, Chelsea bounced back with a home win against West Brom to maintain their quest for a top four finish. The Blues also continued their stellar run in the FA Cup, setting up a date with Man United this weekend in the sixth round of the tournament. Chelsea will now focus on conquering Steaua Bucuresti in the Europa League after defeating Czech bigwigs Sparta Prague 2-1 on aggregate a fortnight ago. The Blues play away from home in the first leg of the Round of 16 and Benitez will want his side to grab as many away goals as possible before the return leg at Stamford Bridge next week.
Winter purchase Demba Ba ended his goal drought with a tap-in against West Brom taking his Chelsea tally to 4 goals. Fernando Torres has failed to dominate yet again this season but the Spaniard did score in his last start against Middlesbrough and Blues fans will ardently hope that he can improve upon his form through the rest of the season. Juan Mata has been the Blues’ top contributor with 17 goals this season while Frank Lampard has been edging closer to club record scorer Bobby Tambling with 13 goals this term.
Chelsea’s defensive record has been unimpressive this season, although they have had clean sheets against Middlesbrough and West Brom and they would be looking forward to a similar performance at Bucharest this Thursday. Manager Rafa Benitez has fallen out with the fans and is certain to depart this summer but he would want to improve his resume with a Europa League triumph this season. Steaua are an indomitable side at home and Chelsea will hope to register a number of away goals before they play host next week in a bid to secure qualification to the quarter-finals.
17-Nov-12, West Brom 2-1 Chelsea
Steaua Bucuresti (WWLLD)
02-Mar-13, Steaua 3-0 Metan Medias
25-Feb-13, Univ. Cluj 0-1 Steaua
21-Feb-13, Steaua 2-0 Ajax (UEFA Europa League)
14-Feb-13, Ajax 2-0 Steaua (UEFA Europa League)
10-Dec-12, Steaua 2-0 Astra Giurgiu
02-Mar-13, Chelsea 1-0 West Brom
27-Feb-13, Middlesbrough 0-2 Chelsea
24-Feb-13, Man City 2-0 Chelsea
21-Feb-13, Chelsea 1-1 Sparta Prague (UEFA Europa League)
17-Feb-13, Chelsea 4-0 Brentford (FA Cup)
Chelsea: Petr Cech, Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Ryan Bertrand, John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard, Oscar, Victor Moses, Ryan Bertrand, Fernando Torres
Ross Turnbull is quite error-prone and Cech is likely to take up the gloves again. David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic could be rested before the vital FA Cup clash with Man United and Terry and Cahill could start in central defence. Azpilicueta could start at right back while Bertrand might get another go at left-back. Mikel could start alongside Lampard in central midfield. Moses could be preferred for the attacking midfield role with Oscar on the right and Marko Marin on the left. Despite a match-winning performance against West Brom, Benitez is likely to continue rotating his strikers with Torres expected to lead the line on Thursday.
Steaua Bucuresti: Ciprian Tatarusanu, Cornel Rapa, Florin Gardos, Vlad Chiriches, Iasmin Latovlevici, Adrian Popa, Alexandru Bourceanu, Alexandru Chipciu, Christian Tanase, Raul Rusescu, Adi Rocha
Tatarusanu will start in between the posts as usual with Gardos and Chiriches in central defence. Rapa will start at right back while Latovlevici will take up the left defensive flank. Skipper Bourceanu and Chipciu are likely to start in central midfield with Popa and Tanase supplementing attacks from the wings. Rusescu will play in a support striker’s role while Rocha is likely to start up front when the Blues come visiting.
Prediction: Steaua are a tough nut to crack at home, as Ajax learnt the hard way. However, the Blues have the advantage of playing away first and given the number of goalscorers on their squad, they will be aiming to amass a good lead from the visit to the Arena Nationala. Steaua though are likely to ride on the back of their home support and nick a draw.
Predicted Score: Steaua Bucuresti 1-1 Chelsea
File Photograph Copyright: Ryu Voelkel
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