Last year's Champions League winners wouldn't have been expecting to be competing in the Europa League at this stage of the season but that is exactly where Chelsea find themselves on Thursday night. Rafa Benitez's side travel to the Generali Arena to take on Sparta Prague for the first leg of their last 32-clash this week and the Blues are odds on favourites.
Chelsea crashed out of the Champions League at the group stages this season but they can console themselves with a place in the Europa League instead and only a win will do on Thursday. They are 8/11 on for this week's match with Bet365, who price Sparta 9/2 for the win and 14/5 for the draw.
Benitez may be happy to get away from Stamford Bridge this week as the dissent from the home faithful continues to plague his reign. He may be tempted to rotate his side as the club attempt to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League, although it is a risky business as defeat would ensure the pressure from fans increases ten-fold.
Benitez will have to do without the services of the cup-tied Demba Ba on Thursday, while John Terry is still injured. Ba's absence means Fernando Torres will lead the line, although his patchy form ensures that it might be worth looking elsewhere for Chelsea goalscorers. Frank Lampard has scored four in his last four outings for club and country and he is 6/1 to be first goalscorer as he bids to win a new contract at the club.
Juan Mata has also been in fine form this season, scoring two in his last three outings, and he is 11/2 to score first. The Spaniard has been involved in six goals in Chelsea's last five European games, scoring three and assisting three, and he could be a key man for the Blues. Chelsea welcome Victor Moses back from the African Cup of Nations and his pace will be a welcome addition to a midfield that has looked pedestrian in recent weeks.
The pace of Moses will be important when playing on the counter-attack away from home and he can help Chelsea reverse a run that has seen them fail to win any of their last four away games. They have scored at least two goals in six of their last seven on their travels though and B365 go 4/5 for Chelsea to score over 1.5 goals on Thursday.
Sparta, who are third in the Czech League, are returning from their winter break and they could be a bit rusty as they bid to protect a seven-match unbeaten run at home. Vaclav Kadlec is their main threat and he has scored four goals in Europe to take his tally to 11 goals for the season, with B365 going best price 12/1 he scores first and 4/1 he scores anytime.
The worry for Sparta is the fact they have never beaten English opposition in 10 attempts, losing seven, and Chelsea will be looking to build on their 4-1 league win over Wigan at the weekend. Chelsea are 15/2 to win by a 2-1 correct scoreline and that could be worth a look as Benitez bids to win a seemingly losing battle with Chelsea fans.
Sparta Prague v Chelsea Tips
Tip #1: Chelsea to score over 1.5 goals @ 4/5 with Bet365.
Tip #2: Vaclav Kadlec to score anytime @ 4/1 with Bet365.
Tip #3: Chelsea to win 2-1 @ 15/2 with Bet365.
9/2 Sparta Prague
To Qualify Betting
5/1 Sparta Prague
Correct Score Odds
12/1 Sparta Prague 1-0
28/1 Sparta Prague 2-0
16/1 Sparta Prague 2-1
9/1 Draw 0-0
6/1 Draw 1-1
16/1 Draw 2-2
5/1 Chelsea 1-0
6/1 Chelsea 2-0
15/2 Chelsea 2-1
First Goalscorer Odds
4/1 Fernando Torres
11/2 Juan Mata
6/1 Frank Lampard
8/1 Victor Moses
8/1 Eden Hazard
9/1 No Goalscorer
11/1 Leonard Kweuke
11/1 Yossi Benayoun
12/1 Marko Marin
12/1 Vaclav Kadlec
16/1 David Luiz
Odds supplied by Bet365.com, who offer live in-play betting for all Europa League matches.
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