Chelsea vs. Basel: Dominant Display Cements Blues as Europa League Favorites
If the second-half version of Rafa Benitez's squad is going to show up against Benfica at the Amsterdam Arena in two weeks, the UEFA officials can go ahead and start carving Chelsea's name into the Europa League trophy right now.
As the first half against Basel ebbed on Thursday afternoon, that would have seemed like a blasphemous statement.
The other FCB pushed and pushed and pushed some more, and eventually, after a slew of near misses, Mohamed Salah leveled the Swiss club on aggregate with a first-half stoppage-time strike:
Chelsea looked unorganized at the back for the first 45 minutes, and that late goal to beat the uncoordinated and unaligned offside trap epitomized the "bad" Chelsea.
Fortunately, the "good" Chelsea stormed out of the locker room with far more fire and vigor—a common theme this season.
Just five minutes after the whistle, Eden Hazard surged forward and dropped it back to Frank Lampard. His shot was blocked, but the masked wonder that is Fernando Torres was there to slide in for the rebound and score.
Moments later, Moses used an impressive move to get into space, where he dumped the ball to Torres, who had a go from the top of the box. The shot went array, but landed at Moses' feet, and he was able to get around goalkeeper Yann Sommer for the tap-in:
Finally, just seven minutes later, David Luiz put Chelsea up by three goals with a world-class shot from 25 yards out that majestically curled into the top left corner, leaving Sommer absolutely stuck in the mud:
In a matter of 15 minutes, the Blues had gone from a squad on the verge of suffering a major upset to one that that could daydream through the final half-hour and still advance to the Europa League final.
How will the Europa League final go?
That being said, Chelsea didn't daydream. Basel continued to pressure throughout the final 30 minutes, but the Blues impressively stayed strong in the back, and even created more chances of their own.
The entire second half was a dominant display that proved Chelsea can be at the top of the Europa League class whenever it wants to be.
It's been an underwhelming, turbulent season for The Blues. But if Thursday's final 45 minutes were an indication of things to come, they will not only end the year by qualifying for the Champions League, but they will bring home some—albeit unexpected—silverware.
Not too shabby for a disappointing year.
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