Chelsea vs. Basel: 6 Things We Learned in Europa League Semifinal 1st Leg
Chelsea took an important step toward qualifying for the UEFA Europa League final with a 2-1 semifinal first-leg win at Basel on Thursday in Switzerland.
Victor Moses put the visitors ahead with a first-half header before Basel equalized through a controversial penalty in the 87th minute. David Luiz scored the winner from a free kick in second-half stoppage time, moments after escaping a potential red card for a studs-up challenge.
Here are six lessons from the match.
The Decisions Evened Out
It's a footballing cliche, but it applies here. The controversial decisions in Thursday's match evened out.
For Chelsea, in fact, that could go all the way back to last weekend.
Last weekend, as you'll recall, Luis Suarez scored a late equalizer for Liverpool as Chelsea drew 2-2 at Anfield. Suarez, of course, should not have been on the pitch after biting Branislav Ivanovic's arm earlier in the match.
A similar argument could apply to David Luiz, who scored the winner Thursday with a well-taken free kick in stoppage time. Moments earlier, Luiz had escaped a red card for a studs-up tackle (he did receive a yellow card).
Suarez's offense was obviously much more egregious, but the same principle applies. A red card is a red, in other words, and if Luiz had seen red, he wouldn't have been on the pitch to score the winner.
Basel shouldn't feel too aggrieved, though. The hosts benefited from a downy-soft penalty call in the second half to score their equalizer.
So, then, the decisions evened out—both Thursday and over the course of the week.
Two Chelsea games, two injury-time goals by players who should have been sent off. One against, one for.— Richard Jolly (@RichJolly) April 25, 2013
Chelsea on Track for History
No team has ever won the European Cup/Champions League in one season and the UEFA Cup/Europa League the next. Of course, few have had the opportunity, even since the Champions League started sending third-placed teams from the group stage into the Europa League.
It might not be the most prestigious feat in Chelsea's history, but winning the Europa League seems to be a priority for interim manager Rafa Benitez. Even before David Luiz's late winner, Chelsea were in good position to advance to the final, having scored an away goal.
After winning in Switzerland—something Spurs couldn't do in the last round—Chelsea are well-placed to move on.
John Terry Still a Leader
John Terry might no longer warrant an automatic place in Chelsea's starting XI, but Rafa Benitez made a place for him tonight, with David Luiz moving into the midfield, and the manager must have been pleased with the captain's performance.
Terry marshaled a defensive unit that kept Basel quiet throughout the first half and could have recorded a clean sheet if not for a soft penalty call. He made four interceptions and five clearances and maintained his composure—as expected—as Basel pressed for a late goal (stats per WhoScored.com).
At the other end, Terry even came close to scoring a headed winner before Luiz's late strike. All in all, Terry played well and showed he has plenty to contribute in the run-in.
Moses Was Outstanding
Victor Moses scored the opener, redirecting a corner into the net after Branislav Ivanovic missed his own attempt at a header. That shouldn't take anything away from Moses' performance; the Nigerian excelled in Rafa Benitez's midfield.
While completing 86 percent of his passes, Moses made two key passes and was named Man of the Match by WhoScored.com. Defensively, Moses made four interceptions and completed two tackles.
Rafa's Tactics Worked
Interim Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez worked his tactics correctly, especially in the first half.
Chelsea lined up in an unfamiliar 4-3-3, with Ashley Cole returning at full-back following injury and John Terry in defense. David Luiz, a central defender by trade, moved to midfield and was joined by Ramires and Frank Lampard, two midfielders with good defensive awareness.
Basel dominated possession throughout but struggled to find openings for attackers, especially the all-important Marco Streller. By halftime, Basel's three forward players—Streller, Valentin Stocker and Mohamed Salah—had the fewest touches on the team, behind even keeper Yann Sommer (image here, stats per WhoScored.com).
Basel rarely threatened in the first half and Chelsea broke forward with menace. Eden Hazard could—perhaps should—have scored late in the first half to make it 2-0 but missed at the far post.
The game opened up in the second half thanks to Basel's offensive-minded substitutions. But it still took a soft penalty to break Chelsea's resistance.
Basel Belong (And Should Be Back)
That said, Basel's strong second half showed the Swiss champs belong at this stage of the competition. Manager Murat Yakin made the most of his substitutions, and after a period of pressing, Basel were worth their goal despite it coming from a questionable call.
Basel impressed in last season's Champions League, effectively eliminating Manchester United from the group stage. This season, the stage has been the Europa League, but the results have been similar. Tottenham Hotspur learned firsthand how dangerous Basel can be on their day, and Chelsea will need to be careful in the return leg at Stamford Bridge.
Thursday night ended badly for Basel, but there was also good news. Marco Streller has re-signed with the club, and his continued presence should mean the Swiss club will stick around Europe's two club competitions in the coming seasons.