Chelsea have failed to sparkle in the Europa League so far, and they will have to improve significantly to break down an organised Rubin Kazan side, writes Kevin Hatchard.
"Rubin Kazan have conceded just one goal in 2013, and it could take Chelsea a long time to break them down."
Chelsea vs Rubin Kazan, Thu 20:05 BST, Live on ESPN
Match Odds: Chelsea [1.56], Rubin [7.4], the draw [4.4]
Many Chelsea fans continue to grumble about the leadership of Rafa Benitez, but the Blues are still in the hunt for two trophies and qualification for next season's Champions League. In the knockout phase of this tournament, they have progressed without impressing against Sparta Prague and Steaua Bucharest, but if they ever manage to hit top form they can justify their status as [3.7] favourites to win the tournament.
Rubin Kazan will provide Chelsea with their toughest test to date. Kurban Berdyev's side like to grind their opponents down with long spells of mind-numbing possession, and their last-16 tie against Levante was a true test of patience for the neutral observer. Opta tell us that no-one has kept more clean sheets in the Europa League this season (seven), and Rubin have conceded a miserly four goals in ten EL games. It's worth noting that Rubin kept clean sheets away from home in the last 32 against holders Atletico Madrid, and in the last 16 at Levante.
Chelsea are working their way through a congested fixture list, and Benitez will be forced to make changes to the side that beat Manchester United in the FA Cup on Monday. Demba Ba is cup-tied, so everyone's favourite underachiever Fernando Torres will lead the line, while defenders Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill are both injured.
Rubin are yet to taste defeat on their travels in this season's Europa League, and incredibly they have conceded just one goal in 2013. They have kept clean sheets in their last five matches, and it could take Chelsea a long time to break them down. I think Under 2.5 Goals is overpriced at [1.93], and I like the look of backing Draw/Chelsea in the HT/FT market at [5.0]. Chelsea's recent home record in European competition is excellent, with nine wins and two draws. I think the Blues will sneak a victory, but their fans might have to be patient.