Chelsea vs Slavia Praha: Chelsea travel to Slavia Prague on Thursday night for the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final. Slavia Prague are seven points clear at the top of the Czech league and have picked up some notable scalps to get this far, knocking out Sevilla in the last round.
Chelsea thrashed Dynamo Kiev in the previous round and have been handed what many consider a favourable draw in the final eight.
Chelsea will aim to lay the foundation for a 10th European semi-final appearance since 2003/04 with an assured showing in Bohemia this evening. Slavia Prague are the most easterly club left in the competition (Naples is marginally closer to the Greenwich Meridian) and are so far unbeaten in this campaign at what was known auspiciously as the Eden Arena, before it’s more recent naming as Sinobo Stadium.
Known as Sesivani (the Sewn Ones) or Cervenobili (the Red-and-Whites) the 2017/18 Czech league runners-up dropped into the Europa after coming unstitched against Dynamo Kiev in a Champions League qualifying tie way back in August.
In the Round of 16, the Blues beat the same Ukrainians 5-0 away, 8-0 on aggregate in this competition, but Slavia have produced some impressive results themselves in UEFA’s second tournament since the summer. For a start they surprisingly saw off five-time winners Sevilla 6-5 on aggregate in the last round with concerted defence then full-on attack.
Chelsea have never previously encountered tonight’s hosts, and the last time Slavia faced English opposition was a UEFA Cup group match on 6 November 2008 in Prague. Midfielder Steve Sidwell scored the only goal of the game for Aston Villa four months after leaving Chelsea.
The Red-and-Whites were recently bought by the Chinese state conglomerate, CITIC (who also own a slice of Manchester City), and are a team on the up. In 2016/17 they secured their first league title in a decade, and last summer they broke their transfer record when Peter Olayinka arrived for £2.7m. This is their first Europa League quarter-final.
The Blues have won 12 of our past 13 fixtures in this competition, stretching back to 2012/13, when we lifted the trophy and became the first English club to win all major UEFA trophies.
However, Maurizio Sarri will not thank the domestic football authorities for scheduling West Ham on Monday, leaving two clear days between the London derby and an away quarter-final in Europe, then two again before Sunday’s league trip to Anfield.
Tonight’s hosts also had an extra two days as they played on Saturday night, winning the Prague derby at bottom-placed Dukla by five goals to one. Former Chelsea winger Miroslav Stoch weighed in with the second. Comfortable league leaders, they play the 291st Prague derby against third-placed Sparta, their bitter rivals, on Sunday.