After what was a strong performance in Basel, Chelsea has firmly planted itself as the favorite to win the 2013 Europa League title.
The Blues left it late, but David Luiz's goal gave the club a hard-earned 2-1 win against Basel. After dominating the first half, Chelsea sat back a little more and protected its 1-0 lead. Basel equalized with a dubious penalty, only to cough up the match at the last kick of the game.
Netting the two away goals was nice for Chelsea, but simply getting the win was crucial. Basel is a very strong side, especially at home. Don't forget it knocked Tottenham out in the quarterfinal.
This win puts Chelsea in prime position to make the final in Amsterdam. And no matter if it's Benfica or Fenerbahce, the Blues would be favorites to win the whole thing.
Supporters haven't been happy with the club's failures in the Champions League and Premier League, but they should take solace in the fact Chelsea would become the first club to win the Champions League and Europa League titles in that order in consecutive seasons.
In terms of the total package, it's hard to consider any other club having a chance to topple the Blues.
English clubs tend to treat the Europa League as nothing more than a nuisance, but Rafael Benitez has taken the competition very seriously.
They have a manager in Benitez who's reached the summit of European football. Aside from that 2008/09 season at Liverpool, he's always had trouble getting results over the entirety of a league season since first moving to England. On the other hand, European competition is where Benitez flourishes. Say what you want about his coaching acumen; the results speak for themselves.
With Liverpool, he took an above-average side and made them European champions. Two years later, he took an improved Reds team to the final, only for AC Milan to get its revenge.
Benitez would love nothing more than to stick it to his critics with a Europa League title. He's going to field a strong side in the second leg against Basel and then again in the final should Chelsea get there.
Is Chelsea the Europa League favorite?
Fatigue could be a bit of an issue as the club is still fighting to finish in the top four, but there's enough talent for Benitez to switch up his starting XI if necessary.
Against Basel, Chelsea was organized in defense. Playing Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry in the back four allows Luiz to line up in the midfield. That's arguably his best position and gives the Blues the kind of ball-winner they lack at times to pair with Ramires. Terry has been a liability at times this season, but there will be nothing to worry about if he continues to play like he did on Thursday.
In terms of the attack, take your pick of talented playmakers.
Demba Ba is cup-tied, so he's out. That leaves Fernando Torres. He's had a hard time, but the Spanish striker has been very good in the Europa League so far. At the very least, he showed some solid movement and got himself in position to put chances away on Thursday night.
Behind that, you've got Oscar, Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Victor Moses. Much like Torres, Moses has turned his game up and owns the highest goal-scoring rate of any Blues player in European competition this season. That trident of Oscar, Mata and Hazard is one of the best in Europe. In a knockout match, it's hard to figure any of the remaining clubs finding a way to stop them.
With the advantage built up from the first leg, the road to Amsterdam has gotten a lot easier. Once in the final, the Blues would have no problem dispatching their opponent.