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Sparta Prague v Chelsea

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Benitez: May field a weakened team

Benitez: May field a weakened team

Chelsea travel to the Czech Republic to take on Sparta Prague for their UEFA Europa League round of last 32 first-leg tie on Thursday night hoping to take a lead back home to Stamford Bridge.

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The Blues became the first UEFA Champions League holders to be eliminated in the group stages the following season after they finished third in their group.

They last took part in Europa League when it was still known as the UEFA Cup in the 2003/2004 season.

Rafael Benitez is likely to use the tournament to experiment with his squad and provide his fringe players with a chance to play first team football in Europe.

After going four games without a victory, the west Londoners got back to winning ways on the weekend by beating struggling Wigan 4-1 in the capital.

Benitez will expect a similar performance in Prague and with prolific striker Demba Ba cup-tied after playing earlier in the tournament with Newcastle, the Spaniard is likely to start the inconsistent Fernando Torres on his own up front.

Chelsea will also be without club captain John Terry, who remains sidelined with a knee injury, and midfielder Oriel Romeu who is out for the season with a ligament injury.

Meanwhile, Sparta Prague currently sit in third place in the Czech Liga and will look to claim a major European scalp by fielding a strong squad against the Blues.

Talented striker Vaclav Kadlec provides the greatest threat in attack for Zelezna Sparta, while Albanian attacker Bekim Balaj will sit just behind him, looking to continue his good goalscoring record since joining from KF Tirana.

In defence, the veteran centre-back pairing of Tomas Zapotocny and Vlastimil Vidlicka will probably be forced to call on all their experience if Sparta are to get a result, while combative midfielder Jiri Jarosik will look to nullify Chelsea's creativity in midfield.

Posted: 13/02/13 13:54

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