Friday, 15 March 2013

rafinha goal paris st germainThe Champions League draw was made this lunchtime with Barça being paired with French big money spenders Paris Saint Germain. The first leg will be played at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday 2 April with the return at Camp Nou on Wednesday 10 April. The tie will mean the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Motta and Maxwell Andrade to Camp Nou though the big Swede has to serve the second of a two-match suspension and will miss the first game in Paris.

Considering the other possible rivals this should be seen as a good draw though it will not be easy. Money has poured into the French club since being bought by the Qatar Investment Authority with big name signings such as Ibrahimovic, the Brazilians Thiago Silva and the impressive Lucas Moura, and the Argentinians Javier Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Carlos Ancelotti’s men qualified for the last 16 by winning Group A taking 15 points to finish above Porto, Dynamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb. They then faced Valencia in the last 16, impressing in a 1-2 win at Mestalla but without Ibrahimovic for the second leg they went through after a nervous 1-1 draw.
barça psg ronaldo penaltyThe clubs have only crossed paths twice before in European competition. In the Champions League quarter-final stages back in 1995 PSG had a fine team including George Weah and David Ginola and the Parisiens went through 3-2 on aggregate. Barça gained revenge two years later in the Cup Winners Cup Final two years later in Rotterdam when a Ronaldo penalty was enough to beat the French side 1-0. The teams met more recently in a preseason friendly last August with Rafinha and Messi scoring for Barça before Ibrahimovic and Camara levelled the scores for Les Rouge-et-Bleu. With a 2-2 final score the game was settled by penalties with Pinto saving two as Barça won 4-1.
He's back: Ibrahimovic will face former club Barcelona in the Champions League last-eight.

Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic will make a highly-anticipated return to the Camp Nou next month after Paris Saint Germain were drawn against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final today.
Ibrahimovic made a big-money move to Barcelona in the summer of 2009, but after a bright start to his Catalan career, he quickly fell out of favour with then manager Pep Guardiola. He made his exit in 2011 – after spending a season on-loan at AC Milan – and fired a parting shot at Guardiola with his now infamous ‘Ferrari’ quip.
However, Ibrahimovic will come face-to-face with his old teammates, some of which he was less than complimentary about, when PSG travel to Barcelona for the second leg on April 10.

The 31-year-old is suspended for the first leg at Parc de Princes on April 2 but is sure to take his place in Carlo Ancelotti’s starting line-up when they travel to Spain.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid, who progressed at the expense of Manchester United in controversial circumstances, will face Turkish champions Galatasaray after they eliminated German club Schalke in a thrilling encounter at the Gelsenkirchen.
Bayern Munich will take on Italian champions Juventus after the Bundesliga leaders scraped through against Arsenal; losing 2-0 at the Allinaz-Arena but securing their progression on away goals.
Completing the quarter-final draw is Malaga and Bundelisga holders Borussia Dortmund, with the first leg to be staged in Spain.
Unlike in previous seasons, UEFA did not also make the draw for the semi-final pairings at the same time - that will now take place next month.
Tito Vilanova will remain in charge of Barcelona next season, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said Thursday.
"Tito will arrive at the end of March, I don't know if it will be March 25th, we have to be prudent with the date," Zubizarreta said of Vilanova's return to Barcelona. "After that, he will set the agenda. If he wants his first day to be in the morning, afternoon or evening, then fine. He decides. "Tito is very well. His appearance, his mood, weight, everything...if you saw him in the street, aside from his scarf, you would think he is in perfect health," Zubizarreta said. "But we know that these types of treatments wear you down. We're happy with how the process is going."
Vilanova, who replaced Pep Guardiola last summer, has missed the majority of Barca's matches this year as he undergoes treatment in New York to combat a saliva gland tumor. Vilanova had a second surgery in December. Assistant Jordi Roura has taken charge of the team.
Vilanova, 44, is set to return to Barcelona at the end of the month.
Earlier this week, Barcelona sealed its place in Champions League quarterfinals after overcoming a 2-0 first-leg deficit to beat AC Milan 4-2 on aggregate.
The club is also 13 points clear of second-placed Real Madrid in La Liga standings.

On Wednesday evening, Arsenal defied all expectation by defeating Bayern Munich without reply at the Allianz Arena. No Bundesliga side has done that since Borussia Dortmund in November 2011.
German newspaper Bild said Bayern Munich narrowly avoided a "mega embarrassment" (source in German) at the hands of a brave Arsenal side. The aggregate score was 3-3, yet Die Roten were saved by a rule introduced by UEFA in 1965: The away goals rule.
The rule determines that away goals count double towards the aggregate score in two-legged fixtures such as the Champions League knockout stages. Today, the rationale is to avoid extra time and penalties as tiebreakers, and to encourage the visiting team to be more aggressive.
The rule has proved pivotal in each of the last five Champions League knockout stages. Last season, for example, Marseille eliminated Internazionale for scoring a goal at the San Siro. Inter beat Bayern Munich in the Round of 16 the year before that with a 3-3 aggregate score. In 2009/10, Bayern had their turn of benefiting by Fiorentina with a crucial equalizing strike at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
On each occasion, the "losing" side has been eliminated without really being defeated thanks to an archaic rule which, in my opinion, should be scrapped.
Hi-res-141378987_crop_exact Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
The rule was introduced in the 1960s, as an alternative to the utterly arbitrary method of tossing a coin to determine a winner. Back then, getting an away victory in European and international competition was a rare feat. Travel was difficult, conditions were unfamiliar and often belligerent, and home advantage was far greater than it is today.
According to The Guardian's Jonathan Wilson, just 16 percent of European matches resulted in an away victory when the rule was created. Today, that number is between 30 and 35 percent.
Of course, you could argue that the away goals rule has been the catalyst for greater away wins, but it simply cannot be argued that an away trip is as difficult as it used to be.

Homogenized Champions League stadiums provide relatively similar atmospheres for visiting players. Travel is simpler, and most squads are a cosmopolitan blend from all over the world used to foreign conditions.

Does Cristiano Ronaldo really need the crutch of away goals to score at a stadium in Manchester with which he is extremely familiar?
The concept of encouraging away teams by making their goals count double is a double-edged sword: It often discourages home teams. When the opposition have twice the reward at stake each time they find the net, home teams tend to sit back and defend, making for tense games—and less interesting first legs.
In last year's competition, six of the 13 Champions League knockout-stage first-leg ties resulted in 1-0 or 0-0 scorelines. In the second-leg ties, there was an average of 4.4 goals per game.
As Zonal Marking made clear a few seasons ago, there are always more goals in the second leg. Conventional thinking suggests that it is more advantageous to host the second leg, but based on the fact that there are more goals and they are worth double, surely the away team has an unfair advantage in the return match?

The rule also prevents extra time and penalties in the event of an equal aggregate scoreline. Why should we deny teams an extra half-hour of play in which to determine the true winner? Do fans paying extortionate amounts to follow their teams in foreign countries not deserve that?

The penalty shootout is sometimes criticized as being unfair, but it is a far more dramatic tiebreaker than away goals and one that actually requires skill. Furthermore, the drama of a team working to avoid penalties in extra time is some of the best the beautiful game can offer.
Hi-res-109420173_crop_exact Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
My first experience of the injustice of away goals was the 1997 League Cup semi-final bout between Leicester and Wimbledon. I followed my team, the Dons, up to Filbert Street to watch the first leg. We were probably the better team, but the game finished 0-0. The return leg—to which and The Foxes brought many thousands of raucous fans—was a 1-1 draw, in which we were also probably the better side. At the very least, we were a team that deserved extra time to prove our worth.

Alas, Leicester went through on away goals and Wimbledon remained undefeated in that year's competition. I have struggled to overcome the sheer inequity of the rule ever since.
Even if you argued against all the aforementioned practical sticking points of the away goals rule, it has one insurmountable problem. To paraphrase some some fictional talking pigs, it implies that some goals were created more equal than others.
It's time for FIFA to catch up with the modern intricacies of the game, level the playing field and scrap the away goals rule.
Barcelona have been drawn against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League quarter-finals, whilst Real Madrid face Galatasaray.
For the draw held at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, teams were not seeded, whilst teams from the same country were able to be drawn against each other.
However, the Spanish trio were all kept apart, with Barca rewarded for overcoming Milan in the Last 16 with a mouth-watering tie against Paris Saint-Germain. The game will be another return to the Camp Nou for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Real Madrid, who defeated Manchester United in the previous round, will face a reunion with one of their former players in Wesley Sneijder this round, in a rematch of their 2001 Champions League quarter-final, as they play Galatasaray.
Malaga, making their competition debut and fresh off the back of overcoming Porto this week, were first out of the pot and face a first ever competitive test against German champions Borussia Dortmund.
The first legs of the quarter-finals will be played across the nights of April 2 and 3, whilst the second legs will be contested the following week across April 9 and 10.
The draw for the semi-final has been split this season from the quarter-final draw, and will only take place once the final four teams are determined.
Champions League quarter-final draw
Malaga-Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid-Galatasaray
Paris Saint-Germain-Barcelona
Bayern Munich-Juventus

Vicente del Bosque has pulled a few surprises out of the hat in naming Spain’s squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
For the games at home to Finland on March 22 and away to France on March 26, Del Bosque has omitted the likes of Carles Puyol, Fernando Torres and Javi Martinez.
The uncapped David de Gea has been selected as the squad’s third-choice goalkeeper behind Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina, in Iker Casillas’ absence through injury.
Meanwhile, Alvaro Negredo has edged Chelsea’s Torres and Roberto Soldado out of a place in attack, where he is supported by Sevilla teammate Jesus Navas.
Isco is given a second consecutive call-up to La Roja, as is Cesar Azpilicueta, who successfully keeps Atletico Madrid’s Juanfran Torres out of contention.
Manchester City’s Javi Garcia returns to the squad, after making his debut last summer, whilst there is no space for Bayern Munich’s Martinez or Real Betis’ Benat Etxebarria, who were both speculated as in consideration.
Xavi Hernandez is included despite doubts over his fitness with a thigh injury, whilst notably teammate Puyol, who reached 100 caps last month against Uruguay, does not make the cut.
Spain squad to face Finland and France
Goalkeepers: Victor Valdés (F.C. Barcelona), José Manuel Reina (Liverpool F.C. ), David de Gea (Manchester United)
Defenders: Álvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid C.F.), Raúl Albiol (Real Madrid C.F.), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid C.F.), César Azpilicueta (Chelsea FC), Gerard Piqué (F.C. Barcelona), Ignacio Monreal (Arsenal FC), Jordi Alba (FC Barcelona)
Midfielders: Xabier Alonso (Real Madrid C.F.), Xavier Hernández (FC Barcelona), Andrés Iniesta (F.C. Barcelona), Cesc Fábregas (FC Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (F.C. Barcelona), Santiago Cazorla (Arsenal FC), Javier García (Manchester City FC), Francisco Alarcón Suárez "Isco" (Málaga FC)
Forwards: David Villa (F.C. Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City F.C.), Pedro Rodríguez (F.C. Barcelona), Juan Mata (Chelsea CF), Álvaro Negredo (Sevilla FC), Jesús Navas (Sevilla FC)


He's had a battering from Chelsea fans all season for his lack of goals, and despite scoring the decisive goal in his side's 3-2 aggregate win over Steaua Bucharest, Fernando Torres got a kicking of a different sort.

The Spanish striker was caught in the face by Steaua number four Lukasz Szukala after appealing for a penalty in the second half, but referee Stephane Lannoy took no action on the Polish defender

As Torres lay on the ground after seemingly being tripped in the area, Szukala looked to move his foot towards the Spaniards face.
The striker was left perplexed as to why the referee had not seen the incident, before he received treatment from Chelsea's medical staff.
It came just after Torres' guided shot had given Chelsea a 3-1 lead in the match, which had looked lost when the Romanian side equalised on the stroke of half time, leaving the Blues needing two goals to progress.
In another episode of Torres' topsy turvy Chelsea career, the 28-year-old demanded the ball when Eden Hazard won a penalty just five minutes from time.
Torres stepped up for his second of the game, to surely alleviate some of the moans and groans constantly heard around Stamford Bridge whenever he goes near the ball, but he the top of the struck the crossbar from 12 yards.
Chelsea did go on to hold on and win the tie 3-2 on aggregate at a strangely empty Stamford Bridge, with only just under 29,000 in attendance to see Torres' strike.
When considering the value of a player, there are a lot of factors that can apply. Some are obvious, including level of competition, strength of teammates and overall appeal to the general market. Some are not so obvious and may include factors such as marketing ability, locker room presence and ability to fit a particular manager's style.
With a little over two months to go in the European season, the value of players throughout Europe will fluctuate as the season winds down. Some players will continue to showcase their skills, hoping to extract a big transfer fee in the open market. Others will be playing for major trophies and a chance to add to their legacy.
Here is a list of the the most valuable players the game, based on their potential value in the global market, with value numbers being provided by Transfermarkt

Robin van Persie: Manchester United

Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Market Value: 45,000,000
Going into last summer, Robin van Persie was the most wanted man in Europe. Coming off a 30-goal season with Arsenal, van Persie was determined to leave the club and knew that his stock might never be higher. And after signing with Manchester United for a record €30.7 million transfer fee, van Persie has so far proven to be worth every penny.
The Dutch striker has scored 19 goals this season and accounted for 28 percent of United’s Premier League goals. As a result, United are 11 points clear of rival Manchester City in the Premier League title race, and are still in the hunt for another FA Cup title as well.
The unfortunate side effect of van Persie’s form could be Wayne Rooney's place in the club, but for now it seems like the promise of trophies will keep them both satisfied, no matter who scores the goals.  

Sergio Aguero: Manchester City


Market Value: €45,000,00
Similar to Neymar, Sergio Aguero was considered a true prodigy when he was growing up in Argentina. At 15, he was the youngest player to ever play in the Argentine Primera Division, and moved on to be a part of the Argentina team that won the under-20 World Cup twice and the Olympic gold medal in 2008. He moved on to Atletico Madrid and was able to capture a Europa Cup title with them in 2010.
But after notching 75 goals in five seasons for the club, Aguero moved to Manchester City for a reported £38 million. The 2011-2012 season was the best of his career, as he notched 23 goals in the Premier League and proved to be a top striker in Manchester City’s war chest of attacking players.
No matter what else he does for Manchester City, he will always be remembered for his stoppage-time winner against QPR in the final match of the 2012-2013 season, which gave the club its first title in 44 years.

Edinson Cavani: Napoli

Market Value: €45,000,000
Edinson Cavani has been an offensive force in Serie A since joining Palermo in 2007 and has scored over 100 goals in the Italian League. In Cavani’s first season with Napoli in 2010-2011, he set the club record with 25 goals in Serie A competition.
But like many star strikers on smaller clubs, Cavani is seemingly destined to be picked up by a major club in the summer transfer window. Manchester City and Real Madrid and Arsenal (according to the Daily Mail) are said to be bidding for the striker’s services, and wherever he goes it is unlikely that he will disappoint.

Neymar: Santos

Market Value: €50,000,000
At just 21 years old, there are many who believe it is just a matter of time before Neymar is crowned the best player in the world. The Santos star has sustained the hopes for the next generation of Brazilian football, and has every club in Europe ready to write a big check in exchange for his services.
Neymar is often compared to Messi, and the fact the he has scored over 100 goals at such a young age is certainly a promising sign. But many are waiting for Neymar to prove himself in Europe, which he will most likely do after the 2014 World Cup. If he performs well on that stage, there’s a good chance that next year he will be at the top of this list. 

Cesc Fabregas: Barcelona

Market Value: €55,000,000
Yet another product of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, Cesc Fabregas left the club at 16 to join Arsenal. While in London, Fabregas grew into one of the Premier League’s most influential players and at just 21 years old was named Arsenal’s captain. He did not disappoint, and in Fabregas’ final five seasons with Arsenal, he created 466 goal-scoring chances, made 75 assists and scored 30 goals.
It seemed inevitable that one day Fabregas would return to Barcelona, and he has added another 15 goals to his career total since joining the club less than two seasons ago. It is unlikely that Fabregas will make another move any time soon, but he will always be in high demand if he ever decides to test the market again. 

Falcao: Atletico Madrid

Market Value: €60,000,000
Over the last three seasons at Atletico Madrid and Porto, Falcao has scored over 100 goals. The Columbian joined FC Porto in 2009 for a transfer fee of under €4 million, and scored a career-high 34 goals in that season.  
Since joining Atletico in 2011, Falcao has been singled out for praise by high-quality managers like Pep Guardiola and Fabio Capello. He put the world on notice in a December match against Deportivo La Coruna, when he scored five goals in the 6-1 victory. A strong finisher with both feet, Falcao is widely considered to be the top transfer target this summer, and it is likely that you will see him in the English Premier League next season.  

Wayne Rooney: Manchester United


Market Value: €65,000,000
Since joining Manchester United in 2004, Wayne Rooney has won four Premier League titles and a Champion’s League title in 2007-2008. United looks to comfortably be on their way to a fifth title with Rooney on the roster, even though individually this has arguably been his least productive season.
Rooney was injured in the beginning of the season, but has still managed to score 11 Premier League goals. However, his exclusion from the starting lineup in United’s UEFA clash with Real Madrid left many to question his value.
This year, Rooney has been somewhat overshadowed by Dutch striker Robin van Persie, who has rivaled his 30-goal pace from last season with Arsenal.  At 27, everyone believes that Rooney has plenty of good football left in him, but if he is not able to mesh properly with van Persie and the rest of United’s strike force, there will be plenty of clubs waiting to pick him up.

Andres Iniesta: Barcelona


Market Value: €70,000,000
Andres Iniesta does not seem to get the publicity of his teammate Lionel Messi, but he serves as a catalyst to Messi’s success. Over the last two seasons, nobody has assisted on more of Messi’s goals than Iniesta, and he currently leads La Liga with 13 assists in 2012-2013.
Despite sharing the midfield with Messi, Iniesta is still individually considered one of the best players in the world, and twice has finished in the top three of Balon d’Or voting since 2009-2010.
Iniesta’s brilliance is highlighted perhaps even more with Spain, where he scored the game-winner in the 2010 World Cup final and was selected as the player of the tournament for Euro 2012. Similar to Messi, Iniesta grew up in the famous La Masia academy, and it would be hard to see him ever leaving for another club.

Cristiano Ronaldo: Real Madrid

Market Value: €100,000,000
Whatever value Lionel Messi commands, you can expect Ronaldo to not be far behind. The Portuguese winger has proven his worth of late with clutch performances for both club and country.
At Euro 2012, Ronaldo scored three goals and led Portugal to the semifinals. For Real Madrid, Ronaldo has scored an astonishing 20 hat tricks since joining the club in 2010.
At times this season Ronaldo has not been happy with Madrid, and similar to his manager, he has not denied the thought that he could leave the Bernabeu. But Madrid’s recent run of form, including home and away victories against Barcelona, and a major win at Old Trafford, should keep his wandering eyes focused on a potential UEFA Champion’s League trophy. 

Lionel Messi: Barcelona

Market Value: €120,000,000
With four consecutive Ballon d’Or awards and the ability to seemingly score at will, Lionel Messi would undoubtedly command the highest transfer fee in the history of European football. He scored a record 91 goals in the 2012 calendar year, and his 40 goals so far in the 2012-2013 season are more than 14 of the 20 teams in La Liga.
At just 25 years old, Messi only appears to be getting better, and will be looking to add another Champion’s League trophy to his mantle this spring. And don’t look for Messi to stir up any transfer rumors—he joined Barcelona at 13 and recently extended his contract with the club through 2018.  


Tottenham Hotspur Fall 4-1 at Inter but Slip into Europa League Quarterfinanals.....

The aim was not, Andre Villas-Boas had insisted beforehand, to "prove anything," but rather, to complete the job Spurs had started so admirably last week.
Fair enough then. Tottenham Hotspur lost 4-1 to Inter on Thursday in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League Round of 16 tie. But as 4-1 defeats go, this one was as productive as they come.
After beating the same team 3-0 last week at White Hart Lane, Spurs sputtered to a 3-0 reverse at full-time in the San Siro. The tie then ended 4-4 on aggregate, as both teams scored in extra time.
But thanks to Emmanuel Adebayor's extra-time strike, Spurs slipped through to the quarterfinals on away goals despite being outplayed for 120 minutes without their biggest star.
Speaking of which, while AVB might have denied the suggestion that Tottenham had anything to prove Thursday, his team did so anyway. Put simply, the critics have a point when they question Tottenham's credentials without the talismanic presence of Gareth Bale.
Hi-res-163688325_crop_exact Andrea Stramaccioni's Inter Milan went out of the Europa League despite beating Tottenham 4-1 on Thursday.
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
The 23-year-old Welsh midfielder, who has shot to global acclaim in recent weeks for a string of strong performances, sat out Thursday's match after receiving a yellow card for simulation in the first leg.
Granted, his presence wouldn't necessarily have stopped Inter from scoring four times, but with each passing game, it becomes more clear that his influence extends in and out and all throughout the squad.
Without him, Spurs nearly suffered a historic collapse. No team had lost a knockout tie in the Europa League era after winning the first leg by three goals. For all their domination last week in London, Spurs were outclassed in Italy.
163686063_crop_exact Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
But that matters little for now. Tottenham are still alive in the Europa League, and despite tasting defeat for the second time in as many matches, they're well-placed both domestically and in Europe.
Bale, meanwhile, won't remain suspended forever—though the gossip pages continue to speculate about his future—and his return to the squad will no doubt lift Spurs as the run-in resumes.
Villas-Boas made four changes to the team that lost 3-2 at Liverpool in the league over the weekend. Adebayor took a spot in Spurs' shuffled attack, and 35-year-old defender William Gallas replaced Michael Dawson in the defense.
Within 20 minutes, Inter broke the resistance and mounted their comeback. The outstanding Rodrigo Palacio placed a perfect cross at the back post, where Antonio Cassano pounded his header off the pitch and past Brad Friedel.
Palacio hit the bar five minutes later after chipping Friedel, but Spurs managed to hold out without conceding again before halftime. Seven minutes after the restart, though, Inter found another.
Hi-res-163683212_crop_exact Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
Cassano turned provider this time, slipping a through-ball to Palacio, who beat Gallas effortlessly and curled his shot into the side netting. Gallas was the culprit again in the 75th minute, turning an Inter free kick into his own net.
That leveled the tie at 3-3 and sent the second leg to extra time. There, Adebayor saved Spurs with his Johnny-on-the-spot tap-in, even though Inter made matters interesting with Ricardo Alvarez's 110th-minute goal.
Andrea Ranocchia, in fact, headed just over the bar in the 120th minute, with only Friedel to beat. Clearly stunned, Friedel could only hold his hands to his head.
For 120 minutes, this second leg had defied belief. And because of it, the self-belief Villas-Boas had so confidently proclaimed in the absence of his star seemed at best misplaced.
Chelsea has given its supporters plenty of reasons to be disappointed this year, but a 3-1 victory over Steaua Bucuresti to avoid elimination in the Europa League proved that the team still has the ability to pull off impressive results in order to finish this season strong.
After losing the first leg of the matchup 1-0, the Blues returned to Stamford Bridge with ground to make up. Juan Mata evened the score on aggregate in the 33rd minute with a scrappy goal, but Steaua’s Vlad Chiriches knocked in a loose ball following a corner kick to regain the advantage.
After the visitors’ goal, Chelsea needed to score twice to advance. In this dire situation, it was no surprise that John Terry delivered the spark with a fantastic header off Mata’s cross in the 58th minute.
The Blues continued to press forward and show off their superior skill, and finally Fernando Torres came through with an excellent setup and strike from the center of the box to put his team through to the quarterfinals. 
Throughout the match, Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar dazzled with their skill and creativity. Steaua was clearly outclassed and faced a noticeable talent deficit.
Hi-res-163686691_crop_exact Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
But Chelsea owns the more talented squad in nearly every match it plays. Lack of quality players has not been the main cause of the team’s disappointing Champions League campaign or its inability to compete for a league title.
The Blues have failed to meet expectations this season because of their inconsistency.
Matches in which the team is disinterested or plays down to the level of its competition have been too common this season.
In the first leg against Steaua, Chelsea had a 54-46 advantage in possession and nine shots compared to 10 for the Romanians. In the second leg, the Blues had possession for 59 percent of the match and outshot Steaua 18-8.
The inconsistency has been a serious problem in the Premiership as well. There are no clearer signs of the team’s erratic form than its results against last-place Queens Park Rangers this season: a 0-0 draw and a 1-0 defeat. 
With an FA Cup tie with Manchester United, the remainder of the Europa League and the end of the Premiership still to come, Blues fans will be worried about their side’s ability to produce a dud in any match.
Hi-res-163689099_crop_exact Scott Heavey/Getty Images
But the victory on Thursday was a sign of hope. It is unsurprising that Chelsea proved its superior skill, but conceding at the very end of the first half was a deflating event.
When the team came back onto the pitch for the second half, it had 45 minutes to produce two goals against a side that had no interest in going forward. This was a daunting task and offered Chelsea the opportunity to succumb to frustration.

Which player is most important to the Blues' success for the remainder of the season?

,,pls cmnt
Instead, the team showed resiliency and fought back. Terry’s leadership was key, and the prodigious talent of Hazard and Mata was crucial.
The comeback displayed the mixture of experience and skill that makes this Chelsea team dangerous but has also been absent in too many fixtures.
Going forward, the Blues must continue to trust their veterans and put Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole in the lineup for important games. This will be important in ensuring the team remains consistent.
Impressive finishes in the Europa League and the FA Cup, in addition to a Top-Four finish in the EPL, would cap off a fine campaign for Chelsea. It may not meet the lofty preseason expectations, but it would leave plenty of positive outcomes to build on going forward.
All of this is well within reach if the club can continue playing up to its potential.

Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Terry (c), David Luiz, Cole; Ramires, Mikel; Oscar, Mata (Moses 90), Hazard (Benayoun 90+3); Torres.
Unused subs Turnbull, Ferreira, Cahill, Bertrand, Lampard.
Scorers Mata 33, Terry 58, Torres 71.
Booked Mikel 69, Cole 80.
Steaua (4-2-3-1): Tatarusanu; Rapa (Adi Sobrinho 83), Szukala, Chiriches, Latovlevici; Pintilii, Bourceanu (c); Popa, Chipciu, Tanase (Tatu 78); Rusescu.
Unused subs Stanca (GK), Gardos, Filip, Prepelita, Iancu.
Scorer Chiriches 45.
Booked Bourceanu 49, Rapa 57.
Referee Stéphane Lannoy from France.
Crowd 28,817.

Play video1 Pause video1 Stop video1 Fullscreen

A look ahead to tonight’s Europa League clash at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea will be hoping that the momentum from their impressive second-half comeback against Manchester United in Sunday’s FA Cup tie can spur them on to overcome Romanian side Steaua Bucharest.
Trailing 2-0 at half-time at Old Trafford, Rafa Benitez’s side rallied to earn themselves a replay thanks to goals from substitute Eden Hazard and Ramires. The Blues will now have to conjure up a similar revival to overturn the single goal lead that the current Romanian league leaders hold courtesy of a Raul Rusescu penalty.
Mastermind of Sunday’s comeback, Juan Mata will be hoping to provide an attacking force for the home side who are looking to secure a European Cup for the second year running after last year’s Champions League heroics.
If Benitez’s team are to progress, they will need striker Fernando Torres to re-discover some of the form that secured his £50 million move to the capital from Liverpool.
The away side are in outstanding form heading into the return leg. Along with their surprising victory in the first-leg, Laurentiu Reghecampf's men have won their last five league games.

KICK-OFF: Thursday, 20.05pm

Steaua Bucharest 1 (Rusescu) Chelsea 0, Europa League, March 2013

The game will be Chelsea’s 52 game since the start of the season.
The home side could become the first side to win UEFA’s two major competitions in reverse order for the first time after their success in the Champions League last year.
Steaua have lost the last four ties in Europe that they have played on English soil
The Romanian side were also the only team to progress through to the last 16 of the competition this year after losing the first leg. Steaua overturned a two goal first-leg deficit to Ajax, only the second time it has been achieved in the history of the competition.

Chelsea to win: 1.38
Steaua Bucharest to win:   11
Draw: 5.2
To qualify:
Chelsea: 1.72
Steaua Bucharest:  2.36

+Chelsea Football Club 
Here is tonight's line-up against Steaua Bucharest (k/o 8:05pm UK time) at Stamford Bridge:

Cech; Azpilicueta, D Luiz, JT (c), Cole; Ramires, Mikel; Hazard, Mata, Oscar; Torres

Subs: Turnbull, Ferreira, Cahill, Bertrand, Lamps, Benayoun, Moses

Play video1 Pause video1 Stop video1 Fullscreen