Rubin can rock the Bridge
Andy Schooler previews Thursday's Europa League quarter-final action and thinks Chelsea could find the going tough against Rubin Kazan.
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Judging Chelsea of late has been a tough task but the price about them being upset in the Europa League on Thursday night looks very tempting.
A quarter-final, first-leg clash with Russians Rubin Kazan at Stamford Bridge is the Blues' third game in six days as the club's fixture backlog really begins to bite.
And the situation Chelsea find themselves looks conducive to a possible shock.
Last weekend's defeat to Southampton has considerably weakened their chances of holding onto a top-four place in the Premier League and they simply won't be able to ease up in that competition as they attempt to win silverware in both the Europa League and the FA Cup.
They face Sunderland, under new management, on Sunday and you now have to wonder whether certain players will be held back for that contest.
Demba Ba has to be for he is cup-tied for this one, while Ashley Cole's injury, picked up in Monday's hard-fought win over Manchester United, keeps him out.
Rafael Benitez's men have scraped through the previous two rounds against Steaua Bucharest and Sparta Prague with unconvincing displays but the level of opposition is about to rise.
Rubin may now have the historic name of the Blues' previous two opponents but they've already beaten Inter Milan (3-0) in this season's competition, dumped out holders Atletico Madrid (winning in Spain), while in the last round they saw off another Spanish side, Levante, without conceding in more than 200 minutes of football.
Since their Russian winter break, they've proved particularly difficult to break down, conceding just once in seven games.
While the doubters will say that's down to the standard of the Russian Premier League, the fact is that has little to do with it.
That run includes the four Europa League knockout ties, plus a clash (won 1-0) against Russian giants Zenit St Petersburg.
With plenty of football in their legs - and more to come - the last thing Chelsea need right now is to be frustrated for large parts of the game and forced to push hard to earn a result.
Across London, Tottenham host Basel, another side who have been strong defensively of late - they've kept seven clean sheets in 12 games since their winter break, never conceding more than one in a game during that period.
Spurs, who will be without Jermain Defoe, may have to work hard for their win but here the worry about the strength of opposition is more relevant.
That concern is backed when you view the Swiss side's results on their travels in Europe - they've yet to win in five and scored just two goals in the process, although they've conceded just four.
It also seems unlikely that they've come up against anyone of Gareth Bale's ability of late and his form shows few signs of abating.
The other English side in action is Newcastle, who, it has to be said, have done well to reach this stage given their continuing struggles in the Premier League.
They are also facing a step up in class at the last-eight stage though and in Benfica I feel they are about to hit the wall.
The Portuguese are a side brimming with confidence thanks to an incredible 29-match unbeaten run, 26 of which have been won. Only two sides have beaten them this season and one of those was Barcelona.
Oscar Cardozo's goalscoring ability has been well known for some time and he's now being backed up by Brazilian Lima.
However, again results show that European opposition have proved tougher to beat and it's notable that all four Europa League wins for Benfica have come via a one-goal margin.
Newcastle have tried to keep things tight on their travels in Europe - and they've often succeeded. After Saturday's thrashing at Manchester City, you can bet the emphasis from Alan Pardew will again be on defence.
He suggested as much on Wednesday, saying: "At St James' Park we can bear anyone, so we have to try to take the tie there to win it there."
Chieck Tiote's absence will be a blow to Newcastle in midfield, however. He'll drop out along with inelgible Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran and, with goalscoring having been a problem, you do wonder whether Newcastle will be able to stem the tide if Benfica make an early breakthrough.
With that a concern, I'll swerve on this occasion and stick solely with my Rubin punt.
- All three ties are being televised live in the UK. Tottenham are on ITV1, Newcastle on ITV4 and Chelsea on ESPN.