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Chelsea fans were treated to a stellar Blues performance last Sunday when they overturned a two-goal deficit to clinch a draw that forced Manchester United to an FA Cup replay. Chelsea were strong contenders for the Europa League title this season until Steaua beat the Blues 1-0 when they visited Romania last week. Chelsea have the advantage of playing at home this week and Rafa Benitez will hope that the home crowd focuses on cheering the side on, rather than ridiculing the manager, as the West Londoners have to overcome a one goal deficit if they wish to proceed to the quarter-finals of the European tournament.
Meanwhile, Steaua Bucuresti have shown that they are no small fry after dominating Chelsea at the Arena Nationala last week. Steaua have almost sealed the Romanian Liga 1 title this season after establishing a 12 point lead at the top of the league table. The Bucharest based club have already dumped Dutch champions Ajax from the competition and last season’s European champions Chelsea could be their next casualty. Steaua have failed to dominate away from home but the Romanian side will be confident of securing a quarter-final place in the Europa League, having scored once against Chelsea while maintaining a clean sheet, and they will be keen on producing a similar result at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea’s expensive line-up came up short when the Blues made the trip to Romania last week with Raul Rusescu converting a penalty after being fouled by Ryan Bertrand inside the box. The Blues are still favourites to progress further in the second tier of European competitions as they are high on morale after the draw against United and Chelsea should come out better against the Romanians in the second leg of the Round of 16 fixture.
One would not know what to expect from Chelsea seeing their performances over the last couple of weeks as the Blues recorded a confident victory against West Brom, then fell to Steaua in the first leg of their European tie before registering a thoroughly deserved draw against Man United after going down 2-0, early in the FA Cup sixth round fixture. Chelsea are still firmly in the hunt for a top four finish and following Tottenham’s loss to Liverpool, they have an opportunity to retake third place in the league this season. The FA Cup is also closer than before as they have to only beat United at Stamford Bridge to reach the semi-finals of the tournament. Rafa Benitez will be keen on ending his spell with a victory in the Europa League as well and the Blues should hammer in the goals when Steaua come to West London on Thursday.
Demba Ba has proven to be a more potent threat than Fernando Torres up front, although the striker has just 4 goals to show for it. The Senegalese striker cannot feature for the Blues in the Europa League and Torres will have an opportunity to improve upon his season tally of 16 goals against Steaua this week. Meanwhile, the bulk of Chelsea’s goals have come from the midfield, with Mata being the top scorer with 17 goals this season and Frank Lampard contributing 13 goals.
Chelsea have struggled at the back this season, often giving away cheap goals and Petr Cech also had a rare bad day against United when he reacted absurdly to the United attacks that led to their early goals. The Blues were unable to control the game in Romania last week but they will be hopeful that the advantage of playing at home helps them record a powerful victory that takes them to the next stage in the Europa League. Benitez’s decision to rest key players in the game against United could prove to be crucial when they aim to overturn the slender one-goal advantage that Steaua hold over the Blues.
Steaua are in terrific form this season and the Romanian side are almost certain to clinch the league title after pulling 12 points clear of Astra Giurgiu in second. Their success has spilled on the European scene as well, as Steaua finished at the top in the group stages ahead of Stuttgart, Copenhagen and Molde. Steaua also beat Ajax in the previous round of the competition and after defeating Chelsea 1-0 in the first leg, the Romanians are threatening to go all the way.
Steaua striker Raul Rusescu is in top form this season, claiming 18 league goals and 4 Europa League goals, scoring from a penalty in the first leg of the Round of 16 fixture. Adi Rocha has also scored on a regular basis this season and the Brazilian hitman has scored 8 league goals this season. Iasmin Latovlevici, Vlad Chiriches and Alexandru Chipciu have also scored 2 goals in the European tournament and the well-stocked attacking line-up could be a problem for Chelsea on Thursday night.
Steaua have won their last five games on the trot and despite having to play away from home, the Romanian outfit are capable of dismantling Chelsea, as they demonstrated in the first leg. Steaua have a mere one goal lead in the fixture although they will be proud at having denied the Blues any away goals and should they score at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea could be in all sorts of troubles. Steaua have won a Champions League title way back in 1985-86 and after overcoming Ajax and beating Chelsea in the first meeting, they are looking forward to lifting the Europa League title this season.
07-Mar-13, Steaua Bucuresti 1-0 Chelsea (Raul Rusescu (pen) 34’)
10-Mar-13, Man United 2-2 Chelsea (FA Cup)
07-Mar-13, Steaua 1-0 Chelsea (UEFA Europa League)
02-Mar-13, Chelsea 1-0 West Brom
27-Feb-13, Middlesbrough 0-2 Chelsea (FA Cup)
24-Feb-13, Man City 2-0 Chelsea
Steaua Bucuresti (WWWWW)
10-Mar-13, Piatra Neamt 3-4 Steaua
07-Mar-13, Steaua 1-0 Chelsea (UEFA Europa League)
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)
Chelsea: Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Ramires, John Obi Mikel, Oscar, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres
Cech had a terrible game against Man United and the stopper will be hoping to keep the goals out when Steaua come visiting. Ivanovic was rested in the weekend fixture against United and could be preferred over Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back while Cole could take up his usual place at left-back. Luiz and Terry will start in central defence with Mikel and Ramires likely to take up the central midfield roles. Hazard and Oscar could play wider attacking roles against Steaua. Mata will play an attacking midfield role and Torres will make another start up front, as Demba Ba is ineligible to represent the Blues in the Europa League. Frank Lampard and Victor Moses are likely to be used from the bench to change the game if required.
Steaua Bucuresti: Ciprian Tatarusanu, Cornel Rapa, Lukasz Szukala, Vlad Chiriches, Iasmin Latovlevici, Mihai Pintilii, Alexandru Bourceanu, Alexandru Chipciu, Adrian Popa, Christian Tanase, Raul Rusescu
Tatarusanu recorded an impressive clean sheet against Chelsea in the first leg and the stopper will be hopeful of a similar result this Thursday. Szukala and Chiriches will start in central defence while Rapa and Latovlevici will man the full-back roles. Skipper Bourceanu is likely to be joined by Pintilii in central midfield. Popa is likely to play an attacking midfield role with Chipciu and Tanase charging down the wings. Rusescu will play up front with Stefan Nikolic likely to remain out with a knee injury.
Prediction: Steaua have often struggled away from home and Chelsea could stamp their authority on the game right from the start. Torres and Mata have not scored in a while and the Blues will need to ensure that they do not concede so that away goals do not become relevant in their qualification bid. A two goal margin though will send Chelsea through, and one can expect them to have a real go at the Romanian champions.
Predicted Score: Chelsea 2-0 Steaua Bucuresti
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