All of the talk in European club football might be about the German ascendance after Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund defeated Barcelona and Real Madrid by a combined score of 8-1 in the Champions League, but there are two very intriguing matchups to watch in the Europa League as well.
While Basel will face a Chelsea squad with the most name recognition remaining in the tournament, the truly intriguing matchup is Turkish side Fenerbahce hosting the ever-dangerous Benfica, a team that has yet to lose in Portugal's Liga (22 wins, four draws).
Fenerbahce must win at home to stand a chance in this tie, while Benfica will be looking to steal an away goal and perhaps even come away with a win on the road. Let's take a look at a few keys in this match for both sides.
The first thing Fenerbahce needs to do is forget about Saturday's 2-0 loss to Genclerbirligi in the Super Lig that puts the Turkish side's championship hopes in serious doubt. It was a tough loss for the side, no doubt, but any distractions against Benfica will be deadly.
Dirk Kuyt, Moussa Sow and Miroslav Stoch must be active, put pressure of Benfica's back line and score when given the opportunity. An early goal for Fenerbahce would keep the crowd in the tizzy and might cause the normally assertive Benfica to play more cautiously.
Assuming Benfica will sink back into a defensive shell and play passively would be a mistake, however. This is a Benfica side with plenty of speed and aggression, and the Portuguese team will look to strike on the counter every chance they get. If Fenerbahce fails to remain organized, Benfica is more than capable of winning this draw.
For Fenerbahce, the goal is simple—win the game and don't give up an away goal. If they can accomplish that feat, they'll be in a good position to win this semifinal with the daunting return leg in Portugal still to come.
Obviously, the key for Benfica in this match is to get an away goal. We can talk strategy until we're blue in the face, but if the Portuguese side scores in Turkey, it will go back home with a huge advantage (unless, like Real Madrid, it gives up four goals to pair with that away goal).
Like in any away tie, Benfica needs to absorb the early Fenerbahce pressure and momentum and take the crowd out of the match, or at least as much as the crowd could be taken out of this game.
Benfica also needs to be really stout defensively against a dangerous Fenerbahce front four, a task that will be made all the more difficult as captain Luisao is out with an injury, though Ezequiel Garay will be available.
That means the Benfica midfield will have to track back and support the back four. The team needs to take the sting out of the Fenerbahce, maintain its shape and strike on the counter-attack. This is a very dangerous Benfica side, and it wouldn't be shocking to see them take a first-half lead.
When they get scoring opportunities, attackers like Oscar Cardozo must be clinical. This will not be any easy away match, but Benfica has the ability to earn that vital away goal or even shock Fenerbahce by winning this game.