First things first, it’s an extremely inconvenient away trip in a time when fixtures for Chelsea are building up en masse.
The away tie will be on April 11th between home games against Sunderland and fellow Europa League quarterfinalists Tottenham, while the home fixture will be played on April 4th three days after the FA Cup replay against Manchester United.
In terms of stadia, throughout the competition Rubin have been playing their fixtures at the Luzhniki rather than their home in Kazan, so Chelsea will be well acquainted with the stadium having played there twice before. With the distance between their home and Moscow, don’t be surprised to see the stadium considerably less full than its 78,360 capacity, leading to a relatively muted atmosphere.
League form wise the season has been extremely disappointing for Rubin, lying 6th in the table and twelve points behind CSKA in top spot. In the Europa League Rubin have looked an entirely different team though, beating Inter 3-0 at home in the group stage, knocking out current holders Atletico Madrid, and negotiating a tough fixture against Levante in the previous round.
One source of pride from their league campaign so far however, is their defensive record, holding the joint-second best record in the league despite having lost Salvatore Bocchetti to rivals Spartak Moscow earlier this year. That defensive solidity - demonstrated with a clean sheet against Zenit in their last league outing - has been transferred into their Europa League campaign too, having conceded just 5 in the tournament thus far – with only two conceded since the first game.
Formation wise, Chelsea can expect Rubin to line up in a 4-2-3-1, much like their own. And while defensively Rubin have been impressive, their frontline is not to be ignored.
Spearheaded by Salomon Rondon, who has the physicality to dismantle even the best of defences, the guile of Gökdeniz Karadeniz supported by willingness of Eremenko and Kasaev to take on their man will require the Chelsea holding midfielders to remain focused.
Behind the attacking midfield trio is one of Rubin’s most potent threats, Bebras Natcho. The twenty-five year old Israeli midfielder will sit in the holding role, but provides a significant threat going forward, with seven goals and three assists so far this season.
The tie will undoubtedly be an interesting one, with a strong Rubin backline bound to be tested by the considerable threat of Chelsea’s trio of attacking midfielders. But expect this game to be won and lost from defensive midfield. The role of Ramires and Natcho prove integral to their sides on a regular basis, demonstrated by both providing essential assists last night to ensure their respective sides progression.
Chelsea will inevitably hope to – and feel they should – progress, but they will need to iron out the sort of mistakes that afforded Sparta Prague and Steaua Bucharest good chances, because Salomon Rondon is considerably more capable of taking those chances than the strikers Chelsea have faced so far in the competition.
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