Another Thursday another Europa League match and words cannot describe how much I loathe this competition. From the awful anthem to the commentators (certainly on the international broadcast) who are seemingly half dead it really struggles to get me interested. In any case Chelsea stand on the verge of yet another European semi-final having beaten Rubin Kazan 3-1 at Stamford Bridge last week. What this allows us to do is play a weakened squad ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City and the away fixture at Craven Cottage.
Obviously, as Chelsea know all too well, a 3-1 score line is far from safe but if Kazan’s performance at Stamford Bridge is anything to go by, it should be relatively easy tie at the infamous Luzhniki stadium. In the first leg Chelsea were doing everything right in terms of attacking movement and this time, thanks to a striker who had his head screwed on, it resulted in goals; glorious goals. I thought in the first leg our defending was much better than it has been in the competition thus far with Ryan Bertrand putting in yet another impressive shift deputising for the injured Ashley Cole. The penalty conceded was very fortunate, but other than that I cannot recall Kazan having a decent effort on target.
Fernando Torres is often a contentious issue amongst Chelsea fans but I feel it is time he gets some praise. He scored two very important goals in the tie last week the second being a perfect header, where in the past he would probably head it straight at the goalkeeper or over the bar. More importantly however, his performance against Sunderland coming off the bench was a joy to behold.
He won us the game to put it frankly, his directness and willingness to run with the ball caused the Sunderland backline a lot of trouble and resulted in Chelsea getting the equaliser. He looked much more of a threat than he has at various points this season and I wouldn’t put it past the Spaniard getting his 20th goal of the season tonight
The only real issue Chelsea have going into the match tomorrow is at left back with Ryan Bertrand joining Ashley Cole on the injury list. There are a number of options available for the interim Rafael Benitez ranging from Paulo Ferreira to Nathan Aké. Personally I would love to see the latter start, but in a more midfield role like he did against Middlesbrough and David Luiz play at left-back as has been hinted by various sections of the media. Ideally I would also like to see the trio of Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard rested as the games next week are far more important, but I can’t see all three of them being dropped in the same match.
Oscar in particular against Sunderland looked as if the season has taken its toll on him, having looked particularly leggy, while his first touch was terrible. That could be due to the fact he has played the Olympics and essentially has played over 60 games this season with a potential 13 more to come. I wouldn’t mind seeing Frank Lampard being part of the ‘3’ in the 4-2-3-1 formation with Aké and John Obi Mikel playing holding roles, I don’t think Lampard is suited to that defensive role as he loves getting forward but doesn’t have the pace to get back like Ramires does. It would be something different to try and this is, sort of, the perfect game to experiment in given that Marko Marin has shown to be almost as useful as Winston Bogarde since joining in the summer.
I expect Chelsea to progress to the semi-finals, but I cannot see us winning on the night especially as I expect there will be plenty of changes (providing Benitez is focusing on a top four finish) and the fluidity of the team might not be so coherent. A goalless draw is what I will go for but I would love a win and a couple more goals by Fernando Torres would be a fantastic lift to him and the rest of the team as the season draws to a close.