Chelsea continue their quest to win a European title for the second straight campaign with a Europa League semifinal matchup against Basel. After a stunning run to the Champions League crown last season, the Blues are now two steps away from another trophy.
They travel to Switzerland for the first leg of the semifinals on Thursday. Chelsea will face a Basel side that's coming off the elimination of Tottenham in the quarterfinals. They didn't look overmatched in either leg, which should serve as a warning signal to the Blues.
Based on talent alone, the Premier League side should manage to advance to the final. However, if matches were all decided on talent, Chelsea wouldn't have won the Champions League. They must bring top form to both legs in order to move on.
With that in mind, here's a look at all the key information for Thursday's clash. It's followed by some players to watch and a prediction for the first leg of the semifinals.
Where: St. Jakob Park in Basel, Switzerland
When: Thursday, April 25 at 3:05 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox Soccer Channel
Live Stream: Fox Soccer 2Go
Basel Player to Watch: Marco Streller
Streller has been terrific for Basel throughout the campaign. He's scored 14 goals to help lead FCB to the top of the Super League and chipped in four more during the club's Europa League run. They need the veteran to keep leading the charge against Chelsea.
What makes him so effective is his physical nature of play. He's always shown a willingness to fight for loose balls and he wins a lot of aerial battles, which puts a lot of pressure on an opposing back line. They can't afford to lose him for a split second on a cross or set piece.
The Blues will likely attempt to control possession and play at a reasonable pace in order to make sure they escape the first leg with at least a draw. That means Streller will be forced to lead the counterattack if Basel wants to lay the groundwork for another upset.
Chelsea Player to Watch: Frank Lampard
It's been another strong season for the 34-year-old midfielder, but he's been in an offensive slump lately. Lampard, who leads the club with 12 goals in Premier League play, hasn't found the net in his last six appearances.
The fact he's been forced to pick up so much of the scoring slack is a prime example of why Chelsea are still fighting for a Champions League spot. The Blues' strikers continue to struggle in the final third, which has forced the midfield to fill the void.
While Chelsea would love to head back to Stamford Bridge with an aggregate lead, they would certainly accept a draw. Knowing that, expect a lot of touches for Lampard in the middle of the pitch as the club attempts to keep Basel at bay.
Matchup to Watch: Yann Sommer vs. Petr Cech
Chelsea can learn from Tottenham's exit. Despite an overall talent advantage, Spurs found out that Basel can keep pace in a shootout. The Blues must focus on quality over quantity when it comes to creating chances, especially on the road, while maintaining a possession edge.
For the two goalkeepers, it means they shouldn't be terribly busy. But it makes the scoring chances they do face even more vital. There's a good chance one key mistake would be the difference in the end. That's the small margin for error they are working with.
While Cech certainly has more name recognition and big-game experience than Sommer, the Basel keeper did step up in key moments against Tottenham. It should be a good matchup that will take on even greater importance in the second leg.
Basel 1, Chelsea 1
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