Chelsea will resume their quest to become the first British side to win all three major European club competitions when they host Russian hopefuls Rubin Kazan in their Europa League quarter-final first-leg tie today.
Last season’s Champions League triumph left the west Londoners with just Europa League honors missing from the club’s trophy cabinet, having already lifted the now-defunct Cup Winners’ Cup on two occasions: 1971 and 1998.
Despite a forgettable Premier League campaign, Rafael Benitez’s maligned tenure at Stamford Bridge still has the Blues in the hunt for both domestic and European silverware after Chelsea despatched rivals Manchester United on Monday to progress to the last four of the FA Cup.
Chelsea will likely be without defensive duo Ashley Cole, out with a hamstring injury, and Gary Cahill, with a knee injury, for both legs.
However, goalkeeper Petr Cech, who helped preserve the Blues’ 1-0 victory over United, insists that the defending European champions will enter the fixture in a positive frame of mind.
“It’s always important to beat big teams for the confidence. We are not having such a fantastic season in terms of the [Premier] League, but [the win over United] shows we can still beat the top teams and it gives us confidence to play another game on Thursday,” he said.
In Rubin, Chelsea face a side that have already eliminated holders Atletico Madrid and who are unbeaten in five European away games.
However, Benitez’s charges boast an imposing home record on the continental stage, with an 11-game unbeaten streak of their own. They also have a perfect record against Russian opposition, with four wins from as many matches.
Of the eight teams left in the competition, Tottenham Hotspur are the only club to have previously lifted the trophy, in 1972 and 1984.
Spurs host Swiss pacesetters Basel in the first leg, a pairing that ostensibly favors Andre Villas-Boas’ men.
“I think hopefully going past Basel would mean a lot to the club — being present in a European semi-final,” the Spurs manager said. “We dream of winning trophies, so our focus on the Europa League won’t shift.”
Tottenham will welcome back Gareth Bale from suspension after the Welsh star missed Spurs’ 4-1 defeat at the hands of Inter that saw the north Londoners limp through on away goals.
Basel have never defeated an English side on their travels, but Manchester United’s untimely Champions League exit at the hands of the Swiss outfit last season should serve as a warning not to underestimate them.
Meanwhile, Newcastle United, the third English team left in the tournament, are to face Portuguese high-fliers SL Benfica in Lisbon.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew claims his team’s European adventure has come at the cost of Premier League performances, but stressed that his approach would not change even with the club’s top-flight status still not assured for next season.
“It has cost us points and without a shadow of a doubt we would not be in this position if we were not in the Europa League,” he said.
“However, we are and we’ve approached the Europa League every time to try and win the game. You can fault us for that, but we think that’s the right approach and we will carry that forward into Thursday,” Pardew told the Journal.
Portuguese table-toppers Benfica are unbeaten in the Primeira Liga this season, while their 13-match unbeaten home run in the Europa League dates back to the advent of the rebranded competition.
SS Lazio — the only team unbeaten in this year’s competition — travel to Fenerbahce in today’s other quarter-final.