Chelsea, by contrast, are gunning for a second successive European triumph following their dramatic Champions League victory against Bayern Munich last season. Chelsea will undeniably have the edge in big-match experience.
The Londoners' greatest enemy will be fatigue. They have already played 56 times and are on a run of five games in 12 days. By the time the first leg with Basel comes around, it will be their ninth match in 26 days (via soccerbase.com).
They have the squad to cope though, and in Fernando Torres, they appear to have a striker who has found a competition to his liking.
The Spain international’s struggles in the Premier League are well documented, but in Europe, he is enjoying himself much more with four goals in six appearances. He has proven to be a handful for the opposition on the ground and in the air (via Whoscored.com).
Some words of caution: Chelsea will not need reminding that their only previous meeting with a Swiss side ended in defeat against St Gallen in 2000.
1 - Chelsea's one previous meeting with Swiss opposition in Europe (excl. quals) saw them lose 1-2 on aggregate to St Gallen. Warning.4/12/2013, 10:22:34 AM
Basel have gotten better as the tournament has progressed. Crucially, their form away from home has improved when it has mattered most. In the group stages, they failed to win at all on opposing ground and scored only one goal. Their vibrant display at White Hart Lane in a 2-2 draw with Spurs showed what they are capable of, though.
Striker Marco Streller will be a nuisance, and Chelsea will have to nullify the craft of Mohamed Salah and Valentin Stocker. Fabian Frei is among the most effervescent midfield men, too. No team is more dangerous from set pieces than the Swiss side, with seven goals already scored.
They will know how powerful Chelsea will be at Stamford Bridge in the second leg, so a lead from the first leg at St. Jakob-Park is a must.
History is not with them. In nine previous matchups against an English side in England, they have yet to win. If they can’t break that sequence, Chelsea should be the heavy favorite to make the final.
The disparity in European experience is also evident in the second semifinal, where former European champions Benfica take on semifinal rookies Fenerbahce.
Benfica have reached this stage for the second time in three seasons and will no doubt spend some time reminding the Turks that their only previous meeting in 1975-76 ended in a 7-1 aggregate thrashing (via uefa.com).
Their coach, Jorge Jesus, has picked his team up since the disappointment of losing out to Celtic in their Champions League group. They've made impressive, unbeaten progress in the knockout stages in the Europa League.
Bayer Leverkusen, Bordeaux and Newcastle have all been dismissed with aplomb, despite some late jitters at St. James’ Park in the final hurdle to the last four.
Paraguay striker Oscar Cardozo’s four goals in six matches have done much to provide the Portuguese side with comfortable passage. He was an English Premier League transfer target as recently as last summer, so his talent is surely recognized.
Cardozo may have to be at his sharpest because Fenerbahce have been hard as granite at the back in this competition, particularly away from home. Their 1-1 draw at Lazio that clinched their semifinal place was their sixth away game without defeat, equalling the competition record.
They have a well-balanced side with a healthy spine of Bekir Irtegun, Raul Meireles, Cristian Baroni and the always-buzzing Dirk Kuyt. Pierre Webo, with two goals and an assist in his last three games, is an in-form threat at the tip of the Turk attack (via Whoscored.com).
Fenerbahce’s resilience on the road means the home leg, up first, may not carry as much critical importance as is usual in these ties. That said, it would be a brave tipster to back against Benfica coming through.
It’s hardly a surprising prediction, but a Chelsea vs. Benfica final in Amsterdam in May has to be the most likely outcome.
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