Chelsea's Fernando Torres can help lead the Blues to the Europa League final when the club faces FC Basel on Thursday in the second leg of their semi-final series at Stamford Bridge.
Who: Chelsea FC vs. FC Basel 1893
What: UEFA Europa League, semifinals (second leg)
Where: Stamford Bridge, London, England, UK
When: Thursday, May 2, 2013
Weather: The Weather Channel forecast
Time: 20:05 GMT/3:05 p.m. ET/12:05 p.m. PT
Television: Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Soccer 2Go (US), ITV 1, ITV Streaming, UTV (UK)
Radio: SiriusXM Sirius 94 (Internet 94), BBC Radio 5 Live
Worldwide Live Streams and TV Channels: LiveSoccerTV.com
3-Way Odds: Chelsea -225, FC Basel +600, Draw +330
Total: Over 2½ -140, Under 2½ +110
Alternate Odds: Chelsea -½ -110, FC Basel +½ -120
To Qualify (Advance): Chelsea -750, FC Basel +1600
Decimal Odds: Chelsea 1.44, FC Basel 7.00, Draw +4.30
Decimal Total: Over 2½ 1.71, Under 2½ 2.10
Fractional Odds: Chelsea 4/9, FC Basel 6/1, Draw 33/10
Fractional Total: Over 2½ 5/7, Under 2½ 11/10
Source: Bovada (Kahnawake, Canada)
Odds To Win Europa League: Chelsea -162, FC Basel +2000
(Benfica +333, Fenerbahçe SK +550)
Source: sportsbook.com (Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles)
After making it to and winning the UEFA Champions League last season, Chelsea suddenly finds themselves a game away from making it to the Europa League final and an opportunity to become the first team to win the continent's two most prestigious tournaments in reverse order.
Last Thursday, the Blues needed a phenomenal free-kick from David Luiz in the 94th minute to defeat FC Basel, 2-1, at St. Jakob-Park. A controversial decision by referee Pavel Královec gave the hosts a penalty kick after an alleged foul in the box by the Blues César Azpilicueta which allowed the RotBlau to tie the match 1-1 at the 87-minute mark when Fabian Schar converted.
The win in the first leg was huge for Chelsea but maybe even more important were the two road goals the Blues tallied, meaning Basel needs to score at least twice at Stamford Bridge to have a chance to advance.
Basel and coach Murat Yakin enter this game with a 3-8-8 record all time against English opposition, and Marco Streller (four goals in Europa League), Mohammed Salah, Valentin Stocker, Schar and Fabian Frei will really have to be at their best to pull off the upset in West London. A draw will do them no good so expect a quick pace early on.
Whether the Blues decide to try to park the proverbial royal blue bus or just treat this as another game, they need to try to win remains to be seen, but Chelsea will be hamstrung to a small degree as striker Demba Ba is cup-tied and left-back Ashley Cole will miss the match after receiving a second booking a week ago for time wasting.
Thank God, um, I mean Uncle Roman for a deep and talented Blues roster.
With Basel likely in desperation mode, Petr Čech may be under some fire in goal for the Blues, but the likelier scenario is that Chelsea dominates the game defensively and limits the number of quality attempts on the big Czech keeper and puts its own heaping of pressure on RotBlau goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
In the starting XI for Chelsea, Oscar may get the nod alongside Juan Mata in the advanced midfield as the young Brazilian has played better in international competitions this year, much like Fernando Torres who will start at striker with Ba sidelined.
And whether Blues interim manager Rafael Benítez decides to start Eden Hazard or Victor Moses—who scored the opener last Thursday—on that midfield line remains to be seen with Ramires, Marko Marin and Yossi Benayoun also being possibilities. But with Cole out, no doubt Ryan Bertrand will plug into the left-back spot for the European champions.
Azpilicueta will most likely start again at right-back with either John Terry, Gary Cahill, David Luiz or Branislav Ivanović—who didn't play in Chelsea's home win over Swansea City last Sunday—starting in the two centre-back spots.
So far April has been very good to Chelsea, with the Blues going 6-2-1 in the month and the only loss coming to Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals on April 1.
One thing to watch here is which team scores first. Should Basel notch the opener and even up the aggregate score at 2-2, Chelsea will still have the edge in road goals, 2-1, but it will be pretty much game on at The Bridge and all the positivity which came from Luiz's late score will suddenly be dust in the wind.
Should Chelsea be the first team on the board and take a 1-0 lead and have a 3-1 aggregate edge, the Blues may not exactly park the bus, but the amount of pressure on Basel to then respond with two goals of its own may just be too much to ask for.
Needless to say Elmo, the first goal in this match will be massive.
And worth nothing: I have been very religious about having the same score in my previews here as I had in my "Predicting Results For the Blues Finals 9 Games" story published earlier this month but I'm afraid I'm going to have to stray away from my previous predicted 2-2 draw and give the slight nod to Chelsea at home.
What will happen Thursday?
Why? The Blues will have much less pressure than previously anticipated with the aforementioned two road goals and for a Swiss team coming to Stamford Bridge for the first time in its history to pull off a big upset here in such an important games is a bit of a stretch.
This crazy, long and exhausting season for Chelsea continues three days later when it plays league champions Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday (Fox Soccer Channel, 11 a.m./8 a.m.). If the Blues can somehow exorcise the Red Devils at their hallowed grounds, then landing that precious Champions League spot will be that much closer.
But first things first, brother. And that means trying to make the Swiss Super League leaders' defense look a little bit like Swiss cheese. If Mata and Co. can do just that, then Chelsea can book a date for the Europa League final (May 15 in Amsterdam) where the winner of the Benfica-Fenerbahçe SK will lie in wait.
BETS: Chelsea Pick -225, Over 2½ -120
PREDICTION: Chelsea 2 FC Basel 1
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