After last night’s near-exit from the Europa League, Chelsea are surely the favourites to win the competition.
An 90th minute equalizer from Eden Hazard saw the Blues dump Sparta Prague out of the competition to progress to the quarter-finals in which they will face FC Steaua Bucureşti who beat Dutch champions Ajax in yet an another unexpected upset last night.
1) The holders are out – Athletico Madrid were surely the favourites alongside the Blues to make it this year’s final in Amsterdam but were beaten 1-0 by Rubin Kazan last night.
Chelsea transfer target and Athletico Madrid goal machine Radamel Falcao and his company failed to overturn the 2-0 deficit they suffered at home to the Russian side.
2) Liverpool are also out of the competition after failing to overturn their own 2-0 deficit suffered in Zenit St Petersburg and Tottenham will now face Inter Milan in a tough quarter-final tie, whilst Newcastle will travel to super-rich Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala next month. The European champions have got the easiest tie and they have to be the favourites to win it.
3) Near-exit last night at Stamford Bridge will surely now galvanize the Blues into a response – they know they cannot take this competition for granted and manager Rafael Benitez will have the Sparta game on his mind when he picks his team for their quarter-final clash next month.
As is often the case in football, it takes a bit of a ‘scare’ to remind the manager, the players and the fans how important the competition is to them. The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge last night was tense and frustrated.
4) Chelsea have had a disappointing season in many ways and the Europa League now represents their best chance of silverware this year along with their hopes of retaining the FA Cup.
But after becoming the first club to win the Champion’s League and then get knocked out at the group stages the following year; a disappointing trip to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup where they failed to take their chances in the final against Corinthians; and a rude awakening from Swansea that saw them ejected from the League Cup in the semi-finals, never mind that it will now be all but mathematically impossible for them to win the Premier League, means they need win this competition and that’s where their focus will be.
They could face Manchester United in the next round of the FA Cup and anything but three points from their clash with Manchester City this weekend at the Etihad could see them slip below Tottenham into 4th place.
The Europa League has to be the priority and, as it was last year in Munich, when needs must…
5) Finally, they have Frank Lampard. They have many other players of exceptional quality, I’m well aware. However, ‘Super Frank’ will likely be shown the exit door at Stamford Bridge at the end of the season, regardless of how much the fans want him to stay.
His post-match interview after defeat to Corinthians was heart-breaking (if you’re a Chelsea fan) you could see he was fighting back the tears. He loves the club, the fans, and playing football. He wants to win something and go out on a high.
If there’s anyone in that team who can make it happen for Chelsea, it’s him. The likes of Juan Mata, Oscar, and Eden Hazard are fabulous talents but they’re not Blue through and through as Lamps now is after more than a decade of service to the club.
He’s the heartbeat of that team and has been for years and with his imminent departure on the horizon, you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll want to go out with a bang.
image: © nicksarebi