A week on from Rafa’s moan, the Chelsea faithful cross Europe to Romania, to face Steaua in the nations capital, where the Europa League final was played last summer.
Saturday’s win at home to West Brom seemingly eased pressure on Benitez following his tantrum last week in the eyes of the media. In reality, the team played well in the opening half, keeping the ball well and being guilty of a few bad misses. The Spaniard, now roused by support from the rest of anti-Chelsea population was defiant post-match, insisting that Chelsea are on the up after a first win in 3 against the Baggies.
I do feel it is rather ironic, given the pasting Chelsea fans have gotten now, after months of protesting against the instatement of Benitez, when just down the road Arsenal fans are calling for the head of their most successful manager of all time. Pot kettle black, some may say.
I doubt the conversation of banners and songs following a 1500-mile commute to Romania will be appreciated in any quarters. Middlesbrough on a Wednesday evening was far enough for one to feel insulted.
So what do we know about the Romanians?
Bucharest currently sit pretty at the top of the Romanian league, ahead of notable past Chelsea opponents FC Cluj, who came close to qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League themselves. The Blues’ and the ‘Roș-Albaștrii’ have never met before.
Attacking midfielder Raul Rusescu is their top goal scorer in Europe, with 3 goals.
The Romanians topped their group ahead of beating fellow European elite dropouts Ajax in the last 32, on penalties.
Chelsea have several doubt ahead of the tie: Ramires, Moses and Ake have not travelled. Demba Ba remains cup-tied, having played for Newcastle in the group stages, whilst long-term absentee Oriol Romeu is still a long way off returning.
Benitez is statistically the most seasoned ‘manager’ left in the competition.
Certainly a difficult tie ahead of United in the cup on Sunday. But one that with each passing game gains importance in salvaging something out of what has been a season spent hungover for the European Champions.