Rafa Benitez has told his players to approach the match tonight as if it was a Champions League tie, and warned them that other teams will be gunning for the chance to knock them out. The Chelsea manager also dismissed the idea that Sparta Prague were an easy draw, saying that they fact that the Czech side had had their whole winter break to prepare for the match means they should be underestimated:
“At the beginning when you saw the draw, maybe some people would have said it is not a difficult draw. Not the case.
"They have been training for a month for this game. Just thinking about this game. It is a team that is well organised and has balance. It will not be easy.”
Goalkeeper Petr Cech has also talked up the ability of Sparta’s players, and also said he is hoping that Chelsea can do well in the Europa League to help make up for the disappointment of becoming the first Champions League winners to exit at the group stage when defending their title.
Cech also revealed that he broke his finger by accidentally punching Gary Cahill in the head during the loss at Newcastle, and that he was excited to be facing his former club.
There will be one Sparta player than many Chelsea fans will remember, as Jiri Jarosik could line up against his former club, however an injury could mean he is not passed fit. Jarosik’s Chelsea career was short lived, but he did pick up a Premier League and League Cup winner’s medal in 2005.
Rafa Benitez has a fine record in European football, and it is one failure in Chelsea’s season that cannot be laid at his feet. The Evening Standard have a piece suggesting that a successful run in the Europa League might help Chelsea restore their reputation in Europe after the disastrous Champions League and Super Cup results this season.
Also on HITC, Dan Coombs looks at why Chelsea are so keen to sign 18 year Lazar Markovic, who is rumoured to be close to agreeing a summer switch to Stamford Bridge.
There has been speculation that Chelsea are set to rival Manchester United and Manchester City for the signing of Alexis Sanchez in the summer. The Chilean hasn’t had the best time of it at Barcelona, who were recently linked with a move for David Luiz.
image: © Jason Bagley