Basel vs. Chelsea: 6 Key Battles to Watch in Europa League Semifinal 1st Leg

Joe Krishnan@joekrishnanContributor IApril 22, 2013

Basel vs. Chelsea: 6 Key Battles to Watch in Europa League Semifinal 1st Leg

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    They may be close to avenging their poor Champions League campaign by reaching the semifinals of the Europa League, but for anyone expecting Chelsea to breeze through to the Europa League Final by brushing aside FC Baselyou may want to look at the Swiss side's recent form in continental competition.

    After all, this is the team who knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League in 2011-12, beating them 2-1 and drawing 3-3 at Old Trafford in the group stages to send them crashing out. 

    And more recently, they disposed of Andre Villas-Boas' much-fancied Tottenham side, beating them 4-1 on penalties after finishing extra time still level (4-4 on aggregate). So it's fair to say Chelsea will be under no illusions when they travel to Switzerland for a game that could shape their season.

    Basel, currently managed by former captain Murat Yakin, are having an impressive season so far, topping the Swiss League by three points and on course for the Champions League qualifiers.

    However, after being knocked out the FA Cup by Manchester City and fighting for a top-four finish, Chelsea will be fired up and determined to knock out the Swiss giants.

    Here, ahead of Thursday's crunch encounter, we look at the six battles which could be key in determining the outcome of this exciting clash. Don't forget to let us know your opinions!

Marco Streller vs. Petr Cech

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    Marco Streller is currently in his second spell at Basel, having endured tough spells in Romania and Germany before returning back home in 2007. And while he will be wary of turning 32 this year, the former Switzerland international is still a danger in attack.

    His four goals in Europe this season makes him their top scorer, and despite not netting in the quarterfinal against Spurs, his role this season has been crucial to their success.

    His record of 75 goals in six seasons at the club is a decent return, especially as this averages out as almost a goal every other game.

    But the towering 6' 5" striker will face a tough task coming up against one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the past decade, Petr Cech.

    The Czech Republic international is a model professional, and his role at Chelsea as a loyal servant has been recognized by the club's management, with Cech now as the Blues' third choice as captain.

    His shot-stopping is his key attribute and is a commanding presence in the air. And with both at a similar height, it will be an interesting battle to see who comes out on top.

Yann Sommer vs. Fernando Torres

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    If you were to say to Yann Sommer that he would be facing one of the form players in the Europa League, he may be eager to find out who that is.

    But if he was to find out the striker who has four goals in his last three games was Fernando Torres, you could forgive him for being surprised.

    Torres, who has struck 19 goals in all competitions this season, has shown brief glimpses of his natural ability as a goalscorer after having struggled since his £50 million move from Liverpool in 2011.

    His double against Rubin Kazan, as well as a fine strike against Steaua Bucharest, shows that the 29-year-old could be returning to form after a difficult period in London.

    But Sommer, who has conceded just nine times in 12 European appearances this season, will be keen to frustrate the Spaniard once more and aid his team's charge towards the Europa League Final.

Park Joo-Ho vs. Oscar

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    After a £25 million move from Brazilian outfit Internacional, highly-rated playmaker Oscar was not expected to make such an impact at Chelsea in his first season.

    However, after Oscar became the fifth Chelsea player to score 10 goals or more in Sunday's 2-2 draw with Liverpool, he has ensured that his debut season in the Premier League is one to be proud of. 

    His six goals in continental competition makes him the Blues' top scorer in Europe this season, including his goal of the competition contender against Juventus in the Champions League.

    Oscar's special attribute is without question his vision, and despite being shifted out onto the right hand side of the attacking midfield three, his tendency to cut inside enables him to create short and swift interchanges with his teammates.

    His counterpart Park Joo-Ho, however, will be keen to ensure that Oscar's first season with Chelsea is one without a trophy. The South Korean is something of a late bloomer, having only made his professional debut five years ago.

    But the 26-year-old has established himself as Basel's first-choice left-back under Murat Yakin, and he will be looking to put himself in the shop window with a solid performance against the talented 21-year-old Oscar.

Gilles Yapi Yapo vs. Ramires

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    A seasoned international for the Ivory Coast, the rather exotically-named Gilles Yapi Yapo has experienced a quiet career in football, going round the Belgian, French and Swiss leagues in his career to date.

    But while the 31-year-old has experienced some success with Basel since joining from Young Boys Bern in 2010, he may find it hard to get past the tireless engine of the Chelsea team, Ramires.

    The Brazilian, currently in his third season at Stamford Bridge, has gone from strength to strength during his time at Chelsea, displaying tremendous physicality in the center of midfield.

    The 26-year-old is the prime example of how a footballer can be successful without much technical ability, and his work rate in midfield was directly essential to Chelsea's triumphs last season, with goals in the Champions League semifinal and FA Cup final instrumental to the cup double.

    This will be a test of strength, fitness and general mentality as Yapi Yapo and Ramires go head-to-head, but with all due respect to the former, the latter seems to be favorite to run riot in midfield.

Aleksandar Dragovic vs. Juan Mata

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    Despite their young stars Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka both departing for Germany last summer, it seems that the Swiss Super League outfit have yet another starlet among their ranks.

    Center half Aleksandar Dragovic has been one of the revelations in the Basel team this season, with the 22-year-old showing his maturity at the heart of the defense. What's more, the English media have linked Arsenal with a summer move as they look to bolster their squad.

    A towering presence in the air, he scored what proved to be a vital goal against Tottenham in the previous round, and the Austria international, who was also eligible to play for Serbia before his debut, has been a key part of Basel's title-winning sides in 2011 and 2012.

    And while he managed to keep Emmanuel Adebayor under wraps, he could have a more difficult job quelling the threat of the magical Juan Mata.

    The Spaniard added yet another assist to his impressive tally of 29 for the season with his corner to Oscar in their clash with Liverpool, and his total of 18 goals is not a bad return either for a playmaker.

    His tendency to drift into pockets of space in between the defense and midfield means it will be up to Dragovic to stay tight to reduce the amount of time and space he has on the ball. A cracking battle between two brilliant players.

Valentin Stocker vs. Cesar Azpilicueta

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    Another one of the goalscorers against Tottenham, Valentin Stocker is one of the more highly-regarded players at Basel, having been at the club since 2007.

    But the 24-year-old has endured mixed fortunes since joining from Swiss minnows SC Kriens, rupturing his cruciate ligament during the 2011-12 season. However, he has fought back and shown his natural ability as a left-winger, scoring against Bayern Munich in the shock Last-16 victory last season.

    His performances have seen the likes of Liverpool and Bayern Munich previously linked to signing the attacking midfielder, although after being named as captain for Basel's clash with Dnipro earlier in the competition, it seems as though he is willing to stay put.

    After causing the North London club Tottenham some trouble in the previous round, he will now be hoping to cause similar damage to Chelsea's Europa League hopes, but Cesar Azpilicueta will know it will be up to him to stop Stocker.

    The Spaniard has been solid in his debut season at Chelsea since a £7 million move from Marseille, picking up his first senior cap for Spain and featuring in 40 games for the Blues in 2012-13.

    His surges down the right-hand side suggest that Stocker may need to do his part in the defensive role, but it will be down to the 23-year-old to keep the Swiss international in his pocket.