Preview: Sparta Prague vs. Chelsea

Chelsea interim manager Rafa Benitez smiles during the match against Stoke on January 12, 2013
© PA Photos
Sports Mole looks ahead to Chelsea's trip to Sparta Prague in the Europa League.

The Europa League is not a competition that Chelsea would have prepared for at the start of the season.

Having won the Champions League last time out, the Blues had set themselves the target of becoming the first club to retain that title.

However, having failed to get through the group phase, Chelsea find themselves in Europe's second-ranked tournament.

First up in the knockout stages is Sparta Prague of the Czech Republic. While they were not prolific during their group encounters, 20-year-old striker Vaclav Kadlec did manage to score on four occasions.

They may also have a face familiar to Chelsea in their starting lineup in the form of former Blues midfielder Jiri Jarosik.

The hosts will be fresh as well, having not played a competitive fixture since the first week of December. During their winter break, they played a couple of friendlies leading up to this match.

What's more, they are also unbeaten in their last 11 matches at home in all competitions.

If Chelsea are to break that sequence of results, they are likely to have to do so without the services of captain John Terry, who is suffering with a knee injury.

John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses could be in contention for a place in the squad, though, after they returned from a successful stint at the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria.

Recent form:

Sparta Prague: WDWWDW

Chelsea: WDWDLW

Possible starting lineups:

Sparta Prague: Cech; Zapotocny, Vidlicka, Hybs, Svejdik; Matejovsky, Jarosik, Husbauer, Kaderabek; Kweuke, Kadlec

Chelsea: Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Bertrand; Mikel, Ramires, Lampard; Hazard, Marin; Ba

Sports Mole says: 1-1

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