Is 'missing' John Terry destined for the Chelsea exit door?
Defender claims he's fit, but Rafa Benitez keeps him out of 1-0 victory over Sparta Prague
FRESH doubts were cast on John Terry's Chelsea career last night after he was left out of the Blues line-up against Sparta Prague. The club captain declared himself fit for the Europa League clash in Prague but he still didn't feature as a late goal from Oscar secured a precious 1-0 away win for the reigning Champions League holders.
Terry has hardly kicked a ball in anger since damaging his right knee in a clash with Liverpool's Luiz Suarez in November, and though the 32-year-old says he is now back to full fitness, Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez has no intention of shoving him straight back into the team. "John Terry has to work to get back," said Benitez. "Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic are doing really well together."
Despite Terry's claims to the contrary, Benitez also revealed that the injured knee is still giving cause for concern. "During the week he had another setback with his knee. Then he was fine again and had no reaction in the next training session." Benitez added that Terry is caught in a "vicious circle…If he cannot play he cannot improve his match fitness."
Some, however, believe Chelsea will use the injury as a convenient excuse for easing Terry out of the club at the end of the season. Though a fans' favourite, Terry dragged Chelsea's name through the mud last year after he was found guilty by the Football Association of racially abusing QPR's Anton Ferdinand. The case also ended up in the High Court, and while Terry was acquitted the club didn't enjoy the front page headlines.
In other results from Thursday's Europa League ties, Gareth Bale's rich vein of form continued as the Welshman struck twice for Tottenham in their 2-1 defeat of Lyon. Both Bale's goals came from set-pieces, the first a 35-yard free kick and the second – on the stroke of full-time – another sweet strike to give Spurs a slender advantage ahead of next week's return leg in France. Lyon, however, were given hope by Samuel Umtiti's goal early in the second half.
Liverpool's trip to Zenit St Petersburg passed off without any serious incident but the Reds have it all to do ahead of next week's second leg at Anfield. The Russians cruised to a 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Hulk and Sergei Semak, and there was no racist chanting from the home fans as had been feared in the build-up.
"There's no doubt the supporters will give us a chance [at Anfield]," said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers. "The next goal is very important. If we get it, it opens up the tie but we have to make sure that we are secure as a group and if we are then we can create chances."
Newcastle also have a fight on their hands if they're to progress to the next round of the Europa League after being held 0-0 at home to Metalist Kharkiv. The Magpies missed several chances and Papiss Cisse also had two goals disallowed on a night when not much went right for Alan Pardew's side. "Both goals are onside and fundamentally the officials got them wrong," fumed the Newcastle manager.