Monday 22 January 2018

Cech urges Blues to restore pride by completing European set

Simon Johnson

Chelsea have already made history for the wrong reasons in Europe this season, but they intend to start making a more positive impression in Prague this evening.

The shame of becoming the first Champions League winners to be knocked out at the group stages the following campaign has weighed heavily on the club since their humblings at the hands of Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk in the autumn.

Demotion into the less-respected Europa League certainly became a reality as they went through their pre-match training exercises last night for the last-32 tie against Sparta Prague at the unfashionable Generali Arena.

There seemed to be little to be positive about, however goalkeeper Petr Cech is not one to dwell on the past and sees a way for the club to end the campaign with something to be really proud of.

Only three teams have won all three of Uefa's competitions – the European Cup, Europa League or Uefa Cup and the now defunct Cup Winners' Cup. They are, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Ajax.

Chelsea need the Europa League to complete the set and, as far as Cech is concerned, becoming the first English club to set such a landmark would more than make amends for their failure to defend the European Cup.

The 30-year-old, who is playing against his former club for the first time, said: "This (becoming the first English side to win all three) is obviously a great motivation for everyone. Obviously we will miss the Champions League, but we haven't won it every year. Once you're out of it you can't change the situation.

"We are in the Europa League and need to concentrate on what we can do. We can make ourselves happy by going far in the Europa League.

"If we win it, we can also qualify again for the Uefa Super Cup – we missed out on it earlier this season and that was a big disappointment for us. The Europa League is a competition you really have to respect."

Interim first-team coach Rafael Benitez is certainly going to do that and is expected to field a strong team against a Sparta side unbeaten in their last 11 home games in Europe.

Captain John Terry is set to start, having recovered from the knee problem which ruled him out of the Wigan game at the weekend.

Benitez is certainly not taking the chance to add another European trophy to his resume lightly either, having won the Uefa Cup with Valencia in 2004 and the Champions League with Liverpool 12 months later.

He even reprimanded a local journalist when he suggested that being in Prague must be a big disappointment when glamorous Champions League matches were taking place elsewhere.

Benitez said: "Why do you say 'only' (in Prague)? This is a massive city, massive club and massive competition so we are really pleased to be here.

"We can't change things, the Champions League is a massive competition, but the Europa League is also massive and we play against a historic team. For me, I will try to give my players the right message because we know it's going to be tough."

Chelsea will be without Demba Ba (ineligible) and David Luiz (suspended), while Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel have been left behind in London after playing in the African Cup of Nations final on Sunday.

Sparta Prague v Chelsea, Live, Setanta Ireland, 6.0

Irish Independent

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