Chelsea travel to face Steaua Bucuresti on Thursday, in the first leg of the two clubs' UEFA Europa League knock-out tie. The Premier League side have been forced to deal with the demotion to Europe's second-tier cup competition after failing to defend last season's Champions League title beyond the group stages this year. And given the pressure on the players and interim boss Rafael Benitez, expect the Blues to come out fighting for a second European trophy in as many seasons.
However, the west London club will have one eye on Sunday's FA Cup quarter final against Manchester United. The league title has long been an unrealistic target for the season but despite all the negativity that has surrounded Stamford Bridge in the 2012/13 campaign, if they can finish a cup double, the smile could return to Roman Abramovich's face.
Where to Watch Live
Kick-off is set for 6pm GMT. Live telecast will be available on ESPN and ESPN HD.
The Romanians saw off competition from Dutch champions Ajax in the previous round. And that alone should earn them an enormous amount of respect from Chelsea. The Dutch finished third in their Champions League group (the group of death - with Real Madrid, Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund for company) while the English failed to meet even that mark in their group.
It was a close run thing, however. Laurenţiu Reghecampf, Bucuresti's manager, needed his players to hold their nerve in a penalty shoot-out in the second leg at home.
Domestically, the hosts for the first leg are in excellent form, with a 12-point lead over second-placed Astra Giurgiu and only 13 games to run. The lead affords Bucuresti the luxury to focus completely on the Europa League, something Chelsea can ill afford, given they are scrambling for a Champions League place next season.
Bucuressti come into this game after a 3-0 home win over Gaz Metan Mediaş, with Mihai Pintilii scoring a brace. The win was also the third consecutive clean sheet in all competitions. And this will worry Benitez, for Chelsea have scored only six times, on the road, in all European competitions this season; four of those came against FC Nordsjaelland in a Champions League group stage match.
Meanwhile, the Blues come into this game after a narrow 1-0 win over West Brom in a league match over the weekend. The result was a valuable three points but the performance left much to be desired. Particularly if, as Benitez recently commented, the club is prioritising winning the Europa League over a top four finish.
Chelsea progressed past Czech side Sparta Praha in the previous round but needed the brilliance of summer signing Eden Hazard to do so. The Belgian will once again be key for the Londoners on Thursday night, particularly because the Romanians seem to believe the side lacks pace up front.
If Benitez's comments about the club's priorities for the season are true, then Chelsea fans will hope the club has done enough, domestically, to allow them to shift focus and risk losing a place in the financially lucrative Champions League.
Chelsea are fourth in the Premier League and trail Tottenham by two points. As things stand then, they will play Champions League football next season, albeit through the qualifiers route. However, they will need to be wary of Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool behind them. The Reds, the furthest back of the trio, may be 10 points behind but a couple of unexpected defeats could change things very quickly.
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): W W W L D
- Last Match: Steaua Bucuresti 3 - 0 Gaz Metan Mediaş
- Last Five (all competitions, most recent first): W W L D W
- Last Match: Chelsea 1 - 0 West Bromwich Albion
Reghecampf has a strong squad to choose from with only the one injury worry. Daniel Georgievksi (fibula) is unavailable. Bucuresti could feature the same side that so convincingly beat Gaz Metan last weekend but there may be some changes. For example, Brazilian Adi Rocha could return for this game.
Probable Line-Up: Tătăruşanu; Gardoş, Chiricheş, Râpă, Latovlevici; Prepelita, Chipciu, Tănase, Adrian Popa I; Adi, Rusescu
Benitez will have to do without long-term absentees Yossi Benayoun (ankle) and Oriol Romeu (knee). In addition, captain John Terry (knee) may also be rested, with an eye on the FA Cup clash at Old Trafford on Sunday. This means Spain international Fernando Torres may be given a start, with Senegal's Demba Ba in reserve and youngster Ryan Bertrand may come in for Ashley Cole.
Probable Line-up: P. Čech; Azpilicueta, Ivanović, Luiz, Bertrand; Lampard, Ramires; Moses, Oscar, Mata; Torres