Chelsea's push for the Europa League title was boosted with a 2-1 win over Basel in Switzerland.
Winning away was going to be a tough proposition coming in for the Blues. Basel is a very good club, and it put that on display by knocking out Tottenham in the quarterfinal and felling Manchester United in last year's Champions League. OptaJoe was very impressed by what was a good run of form for Basel at home in European fixtures:
8 - Basel are unbeaten in their last eight home games in Europe, winning six and drawing two. Solid.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 25, 2013
It didn't take Chelsea long to make an impact on the match. In the 12th minute, Frank Lampard received a very good ball on the near post from Cesar Azpilicueta. Lampard's shot was right at Basel keeper Yann Sommer and went out for a corner.
On the following corner, Lampard delivered a superb ball that Victor Moses simply needed to get a head to in order to score the goal. Branislav Ivanovic was initially given the goal, but replays showed that Moses was in fact the goalscorer.
OptaJoe also had an interesting stat regarding Chelsea's Europa League campaign:
110 - Victor Moses has averaged a goal (4 in total) every 110 minutes in Europe this season, the best rate of any Chelsea player. Clinical.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 25, 2013
It was a huge goal for the Blues because it immediately got Basel out of its comfort zone. The Swiss club didn't have time to settle in and dictate the pace of the match from that point on.
For the rest of the half, though, Chelsea failed to make the advantage hurt. Basel had a hard time breaking down the Blues' back four and could have carved open on more than one occasion by Chelsea's counter attack. When the Blues got in the final third, though, they failed to find the final ball or finish necessary to complete the move, noted by Sam Wallace of The Independent:
#CFC very solid at back. With a bit more fluency on counter they could be 3-0 up. Torres frustrating again. Not imposing himself on game— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceIndy) April 25, 2013
One chance in particular had to leave Chelsea supporters pulling their hair out. In the 54th minute, Eden Hazard went on a wonderful run through the box. He could have easily gone down and tried to earn a penalty. Instead, he stayed upright and passed it back to Fernando Torres, whose shot hit the left post. It was a well-struck ball, but Torres should have done much better to get it on goal.
As the second half dragged on, the game opened up a lot more, especially for Basel. Chelsea began to sit back a little bit. The club took its time when play was stopped and bunkered down.
That allowed the Swiss club to get out on the attack. In the 67th minute, no Basel player could get on the end of a ball in from Philipp Degen. It bounced around the box a little bit before Chelsea eventually cleared it. Then Fabian Frei had a very good effort from about 25 yards slice just wide of the goal.
Chelsea looked to be free and clear until the 86th minute. For the third straight match, the Blues gave away a penalty kick. Objectively, it was a very poor call from the official. Azpilicueta was deemed to have fouled Valentin Stocker. In reality, the defender won the ball. Fabian Schar stepped up and scored the penalty, sending Petr Cech the wrong way.
While the penalty decision was wrong, there's no denying Basel were the club on the ascendancy in the second half. World football expert Raphael Honigstein put it best:
Ridiculous pen but the equaliser had been coming— raphael honigstein (@honigstein) April 25, 2013
Chelsea, with some added urgency, began to get out on the attack, leading to some harried clearances from the Basel defense.
With the last kick of the game, David Luiz stepped up for a free kick from about 25 yards out to the left of goal. He did strike it well, but Sommer appears to have lost the shot as he could only get a touch to the shot as it bounced in. The goalkeeper should have done much better, and it's in a situation like that you wonder what good the wall is in the first place. It wasn't a pretty goal, but it counts all the same.
Getting two away goals is huge for Chelsea going into the second leg at Stamford Bridge. Infostrada Sports crunched the numbers, and it's going to take a huge effort from Basel to advance to the final:
You can say they were lucky to have scored the late winner, but Basel were also lucky with the penalty decision, so it evened itself out.
Frank Lampard: B+
This was yet another match that makes you wonder why Chelsea don't figure Lampard in their long-term plans. Clearly the midfielder is past his best, but he can still put in a performance like this. He wasn't great, but his movement, set-piece delivery and passing were all very good.
Moses did well to slip in and put himself in a position to finish Lampard's corner, but it was the midfielder who had done all the work.
Fabian Frei: B-
Schar was the goalscorer, but it was Frei who offered the most for Basel going forward. He was a threat from long range, which looked to be the only way Basel would get on the board.
With Chelsea's back four as organized as it was, Frei was able to create enough space for himself from 20 or so yards out to put Petr Cech under serious pressure.
Fernando Torres: C-
Torres got himself in good positions, but he just couldn't finish off attacks. The striker will be upset with himself after this match considering how many good opportunities he had to score or set up a teammate to score.
He's been very good in the Europa League this season, which is in stark contrast to his Premier League form. You expected much more of him in this match.
Yann Sommer: D+
It was a match to forget for the Basel goalkeeper. He should have done much better on the Luiz goal. It's hard to blame only Sommer, but the kick was far from unstoppable. Sommer's reaction was very late.
There were also some moments of trouble in front of the Basel goal as Sommer had a hard time holding on to the ball. He would spill it, leaving his defenders to clean up his mess.