Preview: Steaua Bucaresti vs. Chelsea

Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez gestures from the sideline during his side's match with West Brom on March 2, 2013
© PA Photos
Sports Mole previews the first leg of the last-16 Europa League clash between Steaua Bucaresti and Chelsea on Thursday.

Chelsea, arguably the favourites for the competition, will attempt to secure a first-leg advantage when they travel to face Steaua Bucaresti in the Europa League last 16 on Thursday.

The current Champions League holders needed a late strike from Eden Hazard to secure their passage past Sparta Prague in the previous round, while Steaua were surprise winners over Dutch outfit Ajax.

The home side currently occupy top spot in their domestic division having won 17 of their 21 matches thus far. That run of form has left them 12 points clear of nearest challenges Astra Giurgiu.

Chelsea, meanwhile, have a fight on their hands if they are to secure a spot in the Premier League top four this season. They currently sit in fourth spot in the table, but are five points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal.

The home side have no fresh injury concerns ahead of the match, but Stefan Nikolic could come into the team alongside Leandro Martins in attack. Cristian Tanase, meanwhile, is expected to start in the middle of midfield.

Chelsea could recall Fernando Torres to their side at the expense of Demba Ba, but the Blues are otherwise expected to name their strongest lineup as they target European success this season.

Recent form:

Steaua: DLWWW
Chelsea: WDLWW

Possible lineups:

Steaua: Tatarusanu; Gardos, Latovlevici, Rapa, Chiriches; Chipciu, Tanase, Prepelita, Popa; Martins, Rusescu

Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Cole; Ramires, Lampard; Oscar, Mata, Hazard; Torres

Sports Mole says: 1-2

Chelsea interim manager Rafa Benitez smiles prior to kick-off against Sparta Prague on February 21, 2013
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