LONDON — Last season’s Champions League winners Chelsea headline the four English clubs vying for a berth in the last 16 of the Europa League today, 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 today.
“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.