Benitez urges Chelsea to treat Sparta tie like Champions League fixture
Chelsea news: Rafa Benitez urges Chelsea not to underestimate the Europa League
Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez has urged his players to take the Europa League seriously - and says he will be treating their last-32 match against Sparta Prague tonight like a Champions League fixture.
Chelsea became the first Champions League holders to exit the competition at the group stages earlier this season, which led to former boss Roberto di Matteo's dismissal.
The Blues will get their first taste of Europa League action against Prague at the Generali Arena tonight, and Benitez says there is no chance his side will underestimate their opponents or the competition.
'For them to play against the champions of Europe is massive, so we know that they will be ready,'' said Benítez, who took over from Di Matteo in November.
''And the main thing for us is to be sure that we are ready, that we analyse their team properly, so we have all the reports, and we give them the same information that we would give them in a Champions League game.
''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.
'We have to focus on Prague. Sparta are a good team, a difficult team. We have the advantage of a second leg at home – but this is an important competition.''
Chelsea go into the game off the back of a heartening 4-1 victory over Wigan which bought to an end a run of four games without a win.
That run had prompted suggestions Benitez, bought in on an interim basis following Di Matteo's departure, could be axed before the end of the season.
But the Spaniard remains optimistic that he can start to winning games more regularly.
'I was confident that with all the players around now I could make decisions more easily,'' Benítez, who won the Europa League with Valencia in 2003, said.
''I can change games now. If you have defenders on the bench, or strikers, you can change things. But if you have only defenders in the bench when you are 2-0 up it is a problem. But if you have options which we have now, it is much better and easier for me now.''
Victor Moses and John Obi-Mikel will miss the 1st leg tie in Prague because of their participation in the Africa Cup of Nations, David Luiz is suspended and Demb Ba is ineligible, while John Terry could return to action following a knee problem.