Chelsea avoid heavyweights in Europa League draw

Posted by Phil Lythell

Chelsea title winner Jiri Jarosik now plays for Sparta PragueGettyImagesChelsea title winner Jiri Jarosik now plays for Sparta Prague

Chelsea's first foray into the UEFA Europa League will see them take on Sparta Prague in the round of 32 and the first impressions are that it has been a rather kind draw for the Blues.

- Europa League draw

For an age, while the long wait continued to see Chelsea actually being drawn out of the hat - or bowl in this case - it seemed inevitable that a rematch with holders and UEFA Super Cup nemesis Atletico Madrid would be on the cards. Perhaps that would have sparked Roman Abramovich into lodging an astronomical bid for Radamel Falcao to deny him the chance to score another hat-trick against the European Champions.

Last year's Champions League tie against Napoli could also have been reprised but instead Rafael Benitez will lead his team against the side sitting third in the Czech league.

Sparta are not blessed with many household names at present but eagle-eyed Chelsea fans will recognise a former Blue in their ranks in the shape of Jiri Jarosik. The 35-year-old played a handful of games in Jose Mourinho's trophy-laden first season as manager, starting the final of the Carling Cup in which Liverpool were vanquished 3-2 after extra time before picking up Premier League winners medal for good measure.

Should the trip to Bohemia be successfully negotiated, Chelsea will then face either Ajax or Steaua Bucharest. Both are grand names of European football even if neither are quite the force of yesteryear. Having said that, Ajax gave Manchester City a football lesson in the group stages of the Champions League so will be have to be treated with the utmost respect should that tie materialise.

But Sparta Prague are the next defined target. Get past them and Chelsea will be one step closer to becoming just the fourth team to have won each of UEFA's major cup competitions after Juventus, Ajax and Bayern Munich. Wouldn't be bad for a team with no history, would it?

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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