PARIS, France February 21 – Last season’s Champions League winners Chelsea headline the four English clubs vying for a berth in the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday, as several high-profile names stare at the exit door.
Chelsea go into the second leg of their tie with Sparta Prague at Stamford Bridge holding a 1-0 advantage thanks to Oscar’s late strike a week ago in the Czech capital.
“We still have to concentrate to make sure we get the right result but we’re in a good position now so we have to follow it through,” said midfielder Frank Lampard.
Despite the ignominy of becoming the first Champions League winners to bow out at the group stage, Lampard, who is just three goals shy of Bobby Tambling’s club record tally of 202, insisted more European success was still firmly on Chelsea’s radar.
“If it’s hard (to focus on the Europa League after dropping out of the Champions League) then we’d better change that very quickly because we’re in this competition now so we have to get our attitude right.
“The Europa League is a fantastic competition to try and win, so that’s what we have to do.”
Three-time UEFA Cup winners Liverpool will need to overturn a two-goal deficit against 2008 UEFA Cup winners Zenit St. Petersburg to prevent a premature end to their European campaign at Anfield.
Fresh from Sunday’s 5-0 battering of Premier League rivals Swansea City, Spanish defender Jose Enrique hopes Brendan Rodgers’ side can replicate that performance on Thursday.
“It was a good reaction from the team,” he said.
“It was a really hard game against Zenit so it is good for us to have this result because now our confidence is there for the next game, which it is really important we win.
“They (Zenit) spent a lot of money so they have good players so we have to keep a clean sheet and then to score as many as we can.”
Meanwhile, Gareth Bale’s brace ensured Tottenham travel to Lyon leading 2-1 on aggregate.
Two stunning free-kicks from the Wales international handed Spurs a slender advantage, but the Londoners stressed their approach would remain the same at Stade Gerland.
“We are a team that normally score away from home so we hope to cancel out their advantage – we will set out the same way to try to attack,” insisted manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Former Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris again appears set to miss out against his old club with Villas-Boas likely to opt once more for reserve custodian Brad Friedel, while England striker Jermain Defoe remains sidelined with an ankle problem.
Newcastle will be greeted by sub-zero temperatures as they make the trip to Kharkiv for their second-leg fixture against Metalist.
Alan Pardew’s men were left to rue their profligacy as they were held to a goalless stalemate by the Ukrainian outfit last time out.
However, the Magpies could be boosted by the return of France international Hatem Ben Arfa from a hamstring injury that has kept him out since early December, while January recuit Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa says there is plenty of reason for optimism.
“It’s fair to say we did have our chances to come away with victory (at St. James’ Park) but unfortunately we couldn’t,” said the former Montpellier centre-back.
“However there were a lot of positives to take out of the match and we’ll go away in the second leg, try and get one or two goals and come away with a victory.”
Two goals from Rodrigo Palacio at the San Siro helped Inter Milan to a 2-0 first-leg advantage over Romanian side CFR Cluj, but a steep task awaits holders Atletico Madrid in Russia after the Spaniards suffered a 2-0 home defeat to Rubin Kazan.
Italian title challengers Napoli must overturn a three-goal deficit away to Czech league leaders Viktoria Plzen if they are to progress, a feat never achieved before in the Europa League.