Chelsea vs. Basel: 5 Bold Predictions for Europa League Semifinal
England's sole remaining representative will take on the Swiss side at the semifinal stage for the right to face the winner of Benfica vs. Fenerbahce in the tournament final.
Rafa Benitez will be hoping his team will be the first English outfit to hoist the trophy since his former club, Liverpool, back in 2001.
Here's a look ahead to the Blues' semifinal showdown and some potential scenarios
Chelsea Lose First Leg in Basel
Chelsea should feel confident after the draw and will have excellent material to study with Basel's recent tie against Spurs. However, the Swiss side are an underrated unit—as Spurs found out—and may take an early advantage in the tie.
Basel currently top their domestic league and haven't lost a home game all season, with 10 wins and three draws from 13 matches. In the Europa League, their aggregate goals tally is an impressive 12 goals for and just four against in six matches at home.
Chelsea's own away form has been patchy at best with five defeats in their last eight, including surprise Europa League losses to Steaua Bucharest and Rubin Kazan.
Don't be shocked if Basel once again upset the odds and leave Chelsea needing a strong showing at Stamford Bridge in order to reach the final.
Fernando Torres Grabs a Crucial Away Goal
Fernando Torres has appeared a different player in this competition, compared to the version seen in the Premier League at the moment.
He has four goals in just six games, making him the third top scorer in the tournament. He also averages 4.5 shots per game—a ratio only two forwards can better across the 56 teams to appear.
Compared to his less remarkable Premier League return of seven goals in 30 appearances, and an average of 2.0 shots per game, it seems Chelsea would be wise to keep playing him in Europe.
Basel can be a resilient side at the back, especially at home, but expect Torres to find a way of continuing his form and possibly registering his side a vital away goal.
Two Bad-Tempered Affairs
Basel have received more cards than any other team in the competition, with 27 yellow and three red in just 12 games.
They also average a total of 16.6 fouls per game, which is the fifth highest team total out of the 56 sides to enter the Europa League, while no team has recorded more than their 199 fouls.
In short, the Swiss side are a physical bunch and generally drag their opponents into feisty, full-blooded contests, as Spurs found out with Jan Vertonghen's costly red card in the quarterfinal.
Basel won't change their approach for this semifinal and it's very possible for a red card or two to be handed out, potentially leaving a big-name player to miss out on the final.
Set Pieces Decisive
The key to Chelsea's progression to the final could well be decided by how well they defend set pieces.
As slick and exciting as Basel often looked on the attack against Spurs, the Swiss side have actually struggled be penetrate opponents in open play, scoring just five of their 16 goals that way.
Instead, they benefit from disjointed games and thrive on set pieces, where they have already scored seven goals and another three penalties—more than any other side in the tournament.
Chelsea are strong at attacking set pieces but are not always as cohesive in the air at the back. Rafa Benitez's side will need to be organised and prevent as many dead-ball opportunities as possible to stifle their opponent's primary strength.
If they can do that, Basel will find it hard to score, especially at Stamford Bride.
Prediction: Chelsea Through, Just
Chelsea have been installed as tournament favourites after the semifinal draw and will be confident of securing victory over Basel.
Tottenham's underestimation of the Swiss side may well do their fellow Londoners a favour, but the two ties are still likely to be closely contested fixtures.
Given Basel's home dominance, it would not be surprising for Chelsea to start the second leg behind the eight-ball and must make sure they leave Switzerland with an away goal.
Overall, Benitez's side should still have enough to prevail, but it's unlikely to be entirely smooth sailing.
Prediction: Basel 2-1 Chelsea, Chelsea 2-0 Basel—Chelsea advance 3-2 on aggregate.
Statistics via WhoScored?