Chelsea vs. Basel: What Blues Must Do to Secure Berth in Europa League Final
Chelsea are in prime position to reach the Europa League championship match after earning a 2-1 road win over Basel last week. Now the Blues just can't afford to lose focus against the talented Swiss champions following a very competitive first leg.
Basel eliminated Tottenham in the previous round, which signaled to Chelsea they would be a tougher test than it appeared on paper. Sure enough, FCB went stride for stride with last year's Champions League winners before a late goal from David Luiz gave the Blues an edge.
The biggest key for Chelsea is avoiding the urge to fall into a defensive shell. Even though Basel must score at least two goals at Stamford Bridge, it's a feat they were already able to accomplish at White Hart Lane. The big stages haven't phased the battled-tested squad.
Basel owned the possession edge in the first leg at 58 percent. It was a back-and-forth match that saw good chances squandered by both sides. Chelsea must attempt to slow down the pace in the rematch.
Which club will advance to the Europa final?
Not only would it allow them to narrow or overtake the possession battle, but it would also protect the Blues from counterattacks. Slow, sustained buildups that will burn time are the best plan of attack for the favorites.
While Chelsea are the more talented side, and should arguably use a more open style of play to let that shine through, Basel have proved throughout the tournament that's not the right way to go. They are far more perilous in that type of match.
Juan Mata spoke of that danger ahead of the second leg (via ESPN):
"It's going to be a dangerous game," Mata said.
"Even though we have two goals away, a great result, it's that kind of game that can be very risky.
"If we don't go into the game thinking about winning, thinking about defending well, thinking about trying to win again, it's going to be difficult."
Instead, the Blues should lean heavily on Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard to lead the charge. They have been two of the club's most reliable players throughout the campaign. Fans have come to expect this from Lampard, but Hazard's smooth transition has been a huge boost.
The more touches they get in the early going, the better the chance Chelsea has to establish the pace they want. Lampard has been through plenty of these key matches before, so filling that leadership role will also be key.
Petr Cech and John Terry face the same type of pressure at the back, especially early. Allowing an early goal would change the entire outlook. The first 15 minutes will be vital.
All told, there's no excuse for Chelsea not to advance. They have a major advantage courtesy of the road victory and have been strong at home all season. As long as they don't overlook Basel ahead of a key match against Manchester United on Sunday, they will advance.
A spot in the Europa League final is within reach, they just can't let it slip through their fingers.
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