What: Europa League Semi-final (First leg)
Who: Basel vs Chelsea
When: Thursday 25th April, 2013, at 20:05 UK Time
Where: St. Jakob Park, Basel, Switzerland
It was undoubtedly one of the biggest nights in the club’s history two weeks ago as Basel held off the challenge of Tottenham Hotspur to advance to the Europa League semi-finals. The penalty shootout victory over Andre Villas-Boas’ team was the fitting end to a night of high drama where a raucous St. Jakob Park crowd cheered on their club’s first ever qualification to a European semi-final. Tottenham took the lead early on before Basel turned the match on its head as they looked to be heading for a 2-1 win, until Clint Dempsey scored again late on to send the tie to extra-time. In the 30 minutes of extra-time, Basel were the superior side and were unlucky not to finish off the contest. Murat Yakin’s men stayed cool however and converted all four of their penalties to advance.
Knocking out Tottenham was a night that Basel supporters will always cherish and looking ahead anything more at this point will just add to the beauty of a superb season. With a three-point lead in the Swiss Super League, Basel certainly want to finish the season strongly and claim another league title. There are no huge expectations as far as Europe goes as the club have gone above and beyond what most observers had predicted.
Still, the quality Basel have shown as well as the obvious strong spirit the squad have means that Chelsea will write them off at their peril. This is a solid side that can score goals, so if they can grab a decent home result they will not be daunted by the prospect of a second leg at Stamford Bridge, especially having already gone to London in the last round and scored twice at White Hart Lane.
One Trophy Left
For Chelsea the Europa League may at one point been a distraction from other sought-after pursuits such as the Premier League title and the FA Cup. Now it represents the club’s last chance for silverware in a season where they had the chance to win so much yet have lost it all thus far. The Premier League title has now officially gone to Manchester United, an FA Cup semi-final was lost to Manchester City, and before that there was a UEFA Super Cup loss, a Champions League Group Stage knockout, a defeat in the FIFA World Club Cup final and a League Cup exit. A place in next season’s Champions League and the Europa League are the only fronts the club are battling on.
Last season’s Champions League winners may have been expecting more from a campaign that had promised so much, but they are indebted to supporters and the club’s history to now achieve something as the season comes to a close. The Rafael Benitez experiment has had mixed results with the Spanish manager being made an outcast from day one with his title of interim manager. The question remains as to whether Benitez can lead Chelsea to a trophy, which would be a considerable achievement taking into account his tumultuous reign which has included incessant chants against him from some Blues fans.
The club’s form in the Europa League has been quite good and the smart money is on a final between Chelsea and Benfica. Basel will have no trouble trying to spoil the party though and Chelsea will want to take a lead back to England for the return leg in a week’s time.
Basel 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur (11/04; Europa League)
Basel 3-1 FC Zurich (14/04; Swiss Super League)
FC Thun 2-2 Basel (21/04; Swiss Super League)
Chelsea 1-2 Manchester City (14/04; FA Cup)
Fulham 0-3 Chelsea (17/04; Premier League)
Liverpool 2-2 Chelsea (21/04; Premier League)
Basel: David Degen (doubt); Aleksandar Dragovic (doubt)
Chelsea: Oscar (doubt); Ashley Cole (doubt); Gary Cahill (doubt); Oriol Romeu
Players to watch
Basel – Alexander Frei: The Swiss international may have just come back from injury, but he was an instant spark off the bench in the match against Tottenham and came agonisingly close to scoring with his first touch. The former Borussia Dortmund player has averaged better than a goal every two matches for both club and country in a career where he has scored nearly 300 times. As he heads toward retirement, Frei will be hoping that his last hurrah is to lead Basel to another Swiss Super League title and an unlikely triumph on the European stage.
Chelsea – Fernando Torres: Things have not gone as smoothly for Torres as planned since his move from Liverpool to Chelsea two seasons ago. But, after a terrible campaign last year, the Spaniard has gone some way toward rediscovering his form. He has 20 goals in all competitions, including seven in the Europa League. Torres looks more confident under Benitez, however many Chelsea supporters will wonder whether he will ever score for their club like he did at Liverpool or Atletico Madrid before that. On his day, Torres remains a real handful and he has a good record scoring in the latter stages of competitions – he certainly he will be one to watch in this semi-final.
How will Chelsea fare at a ground where the likes of Bayern Munich, Manchester United and most recently Zenit and Tottenham have failed to win in the last two seasons? That is the question Blues’ fans will be asking ahead of the first leg clash at St. Jakob Park. While Basel are perhaps the surprise team of this season’s tournament, the Swiss side have shown their quality and will fancy their chance of a home result against the English giants.
Chelsea meanwhile seem to be swimming against the tide as the season comes closer to the end. The Europa League is the last chance for silverware and Benitez’s team will surely fight to bring the trophy to Stamford Bridge. It will make for fascinating watching, with Chelsea perhaps taking the advantage of an away goal back to England. Basel 1-1 Chelsea.
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