After a disappointing Champions League campaign this year which saw the defending champions Chelsea exit the competition in the group stages, they now enter the Europa League and face Sparta Prague, who are in the same position in their domestic league as Chelsea are in the Premier League.
Petr Cech will start against the club he played for as a youngster and it was feared that he would miss this tie after he broke his little finger in the 3-2 loss against Newcastle.
After that game he was quoted saying, “I was waiting for 12 years to play against a Czech club in the European cups. If I should miss this chance, it would be ironic. I can’t wait another 12 years, so I hope I will be ready to play.”
Chelsea won the Champions League in May, but, as holders, suffered the ignominy of exiting at the group stages and tumbling into the Europa League. Their first action in the competition comes in inauspicious surroundings at the Generali Arena on Thursday night, where the Blues have a point to prove and an upset to avoid.
Rafael Benitez has told his Chelsea side to approach tonight's Europa League last-32 first leg at Sparta Prague as if it is a Champions League fixture.
"For them to play against the champions of Europe is massive, so we know that they will be ready," said Benitez, who was appointed interim boss after Roberto Di Matteo's dismissal following the Champions League exit.
Bad news for Chelsea is that Demba Ba and David Luiz are both ruled out of the game. Ba is cup tied as he has already played in this competition with Newcastle, whilst David Luiz is suspended for the night. Victor Moses and Jon Obi Mikel have also been left out of the squad, with the duo only recently returning from their AFCON adventure.
Rafael Benitez seems to be excited for tonights fixture. The Spaniard said: "We are really pleased to be here. Obviously, you cannot change things. The Champions League is a massive competition, but the Europa League is also a massive competition.
"We play against an historic team. We're really pleased and, for me, I try to give my players the right message."
Chelsea Possible Starting Line Up: 4-2-3-1
Petr Cech; Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Ashely Cole; Frank Lampard, Ramires; Oscar, Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Fernando Torres.
Sparta Prague Possible Startling Line Up: 4-5-1
Vaclik; Zapotocny, Holek, Svejdik, Hybs; Kadlec, Matejovsky, Vacha, Husbauer, Krejci; Lafata.
Referee: Daniele Orsato (Italian)