Steaua Bucharest and Chelsea go head-to-head in Romania on Thursday in the last-sixteen of the Europa League.
Chelsea face a tough challenge at the National Arena in Bucharest against the reigning Romanian champions.
Romanian champions Steaua Bucharest have been the surprise package of the year’s Europa League. They topped their group, finishing above teams such as FC Copenhagen and Stuttgart. Steaua are a class above their opponents in Romania’s Liga I, leading by 12 points after just 21 games.
Steaua are a young side that test teams right up until the final whistle. Their persistence is reflected by the fact that they have scored eight goals in the last fifteen minutes of their Europa League games. Laurentiu Reghecampf’s side are not to be underestimated.
Chelsea currently sit in fourth place in the English Premier League. After a highly successful 2012 campaign, the Champions League holders are having a season to forget. Interim manager Rafael Benitez is struggling to steady the ship as Chelsea fans count down the days until his departure at the end of the season.
Chelsea laboured to a 2-1 aggregate win over Sparta Prague in the previous round and will need a better performance if they are to overcome a youthful Steau Bucharest side on Thursday.
Chelsea and Steaua have never faced each other in a competitive match. Liverpool were the last English side to face the Romanians and escaped Bucharest with a 1-1 draw in 2010. Rafael Benitez’ current side would do well to leave with the same result on Thursday.
Steaua almost have a full squad to choose from for the clash with Chelsea. Daniel Georgievski remains sidelined with the broken fibula he sustained in November but Reghecampf has no other injury worries. Brazilian striker Adi Rocha is expected to start up top, with Stefan Nikolic being relegated to the bench. 26-year-old Romanian midfielder Cristian Tanase is expected to start, despite receiving a red card at the weekend.
Rafael Benitez brought 19 players to Bucharest, leaving Victor Moses, Oriel Romeu, Demba Ba and Ramires in London. Surprisingly, Juan Mata has been selected to travel despite a crunch fixture with Manchester United at the weekend. The Spaniard is in danger of burnout and could have done without the journey to Romania.
John Terry is struggling with a knee injury and Yossi Benayoun is out with an ankle problem. With Demba Ba not travelling, Fernando Torres will start up front. Ashley Cole could be rested, freeing up the left-back spot for Ryan Bertrand.
Players To Watch
Cristian Tanase is a versatile midfielder and could cause problems for Chelsea anywhere across the midfield. He is an attacking player and has scored 6 goals in 18 league games this season. With no Ramires in the Chelsea side, Tanase could find a lot of space and he has the ability to punish the Blues.
Fernando Torres continues to disappoint for Chelsea. The arrival of Demba Ba in January has intensified the spotlight on the Spaniard and a goal tonight would do his confidence the world of good. Torres proved at Euro 2012 that he is still capable of quality, but whether he can unearth the performances of old on a consistent basis remains to be seen.
Steaua Bucharest have been excellent in this year’s Europa League, especially at home. Boylesports are offering a ‘Double Chance Steaua Bucharest to win or draw’ at 5/6 and it is definitely worth a punt.