With this Europa league quarter final second leg being away in Russia on the Thursday preceding our FA Cup semi final with a fully rested Manchester City at Wembley on the Sunday, Rafa Benitez chose to rest some players and continue with his squad rotation system for this tie. Paulo Ferreira came in at left back, although this was down to injury to Ashley Cole and a late illness for Bertrand. Nathan Ake made his second start for Chelsea, the 18-year-old Dutchman coming in to defensive Midfield next to Frank Lampard. Mata, Oscar and Hazard were all rested. Moses, Benayoun and Ramires taking up the three positions behind Fernando Torres.
With a 3-1 lead from the first leg, it was important to keep it tight and not concede early, we went one better than that, managing to score an early goal, cancelling out the away goal that Rubin Kazan scored at Stamford Bridge. Four minutes were on the clock when Azpilicueta played the ball in to Lampard, about ten yards inside our own half, with Rubin Kazan pressing high up the pitch early on, Frank had already seen the run of Fernando Torres before he received the ball. He hit an exquisite first time ball on the turn, over the top of the Kazan back line, Torres was through, Ryzhikov in the Rubin goal had advanced way out of his area in an attempt to beat Torres to the ball. As the ball bounced up it was clear Fernando was going to be first to the ball, with the outside of his right foot he lobbed the ball high over the advancing keeper. With one bounce it was in the net. Great finish, and a great start for Chelsea.
This was a spanner to the works for the Russian side, who now needed three to level the tie. They began to take charge of possession as the half progressed, and were looking rather dangerous. They were using the same system as in the first leg, a 4-2-3-1, but with their two holding midfielders much deeper than their attacking players, both full backs pushing high and wide on every attack, with their left and right midfielders tucking in to play in a much more central role, almost like inside forwards of yesteryear.
Although not controlling possession as we would have preferred, at this stage we didn’t look to troubled, Kazan having a few long-range efforts. They continued to probe though, and as the half drew to a close, Cech was called upon to make an excellent stop. As Terry brought the back line up to the edge of the box, Natcho was played in behind him, taking a touch and shooting across Cech from the right hand corner of the six-yard box. Cech managing to react as he advanced, just getting enough on the ball to touch it round the far post. 1-4 on aggregate at half time, surely we had done enough?
It has to be said that throughout the second period Rubin Kazan were by far the better team. Continuing with a belief in the system they were playing, their full backs spent most of their time half way inside our half. They pressed one of their deep midfielders further forward as they had done for the last 15 minutes at Stamford Bridge, and Chelsea were pinned back. We now seemed unable to keep possession of the ball for anything other than counter attacking opportunities, and the defence was looking less than solid. Six minutes in to the half, and Rubin had their equaliser on the night. Left back Ansaldi was forward on the left side of the penalty box, marked by Azpilicueta, he played the ball back to Natcho, who had time to measure his cross, which was met by Marcano, and his powerful header glanced the near post on its way past the static Cech. 1-1 on the night, we now led 4-2 on aggregate.
Not great defending, but no worry, they still needed another two just to draw level. Rubin smelt blood now, and continued to press high, every Chelsea man in his own half. When we did win the ball, counter attacks looked possible, and Moses in particular had a couple of runs down the left flank from such opportunities. Four minutes after conceding, it was his goal that would prove to be of vital importance. Lampard found him on the edge of the area, he played a lovely 1-2 with Ramires, and finished his shot well. Two away goals. Rubin Kazan now had to score four.
Surely tie over? It looked like the Chelsea players thought so. Rubin took a couple of minutes to compose themselves, but then continued where they had left off before conceding. There system seemed to cause us problems, with their full backs being the furthest forward wide players, Azpilicueta and Ferreira were drawn to them, not a problem, as long as the midfield players drifting inside, or overlapping behind them were also marked, but this wasn’t the case. This coupled with a sudden inability for our back line to defend crosses was to leave us in trouble. Karadeniz headed another for Kazan, much the same as the first. 2-2, 3-5 on aggregate. With 15 to go Azpilicueta was goal side of a Rubin midfielder in the box, made minimal contact, and Rubin had a very soft penalty. Natcho dispatched, and it was getting nervous now. Rubin needed two, with a quarter of an hour remaining. Chelsea looked all over the place at the back now. Every cross resulted in a goal bound header for Rubin. Luiz and Ferreira leaving Rondon to one another, resulting in a free header straight at Cech, The post was hit with another free header. Rubin threw on Dyadyun as another striker in place of a defender and it was backs to the wall. Oscar replaced Benayoun and had our only other chance of the half, forcing a corner from another counter attack. As the match entered three minutes of additional time, Rubin still needed two, but it still felt like we were holding on. The final whistle was greeted with relief. We were through, and managed to rest some key players for Sunday in the process. It had not been easy though. Some work needs to be done at Cobham on defending crosses when the team return from Russia, this looked a worrying problem, as even with Ferreira playing, three of that back four would be considered regular starters. Still we are in two semi finals, and still in the top four, so this season might not be a disaster after all.