Chelsea face stern opponents in the Europa League on Thursday against Swiss Super League current champions FC Basel. With an impressive resume against English clubs in recent years, having toppled Tottenham in the previous round and Manchester United in last year’s UEFA Champions League, one thing is certain. This will be no walk in the park for Rafa Benitez’s side.
FC Basel have been impressive in their domestic league, currently on top, three points ahead of Grasshopper. Currently managed by Murat Yakin, Basel is blessed by a strong and youthful side.
Despite losing star player Xherdan Shaqiri to Bayern Munich in the summer, they were able to hold on to Swiss international defender Aleksander Dragovic, who is complemented with two goalscorers upfront in Marco Streller and Alexander Frei. Streller and Frei have both combined for 21 goals in the Super League. Chelsea will also have to keep summer signing David Degen quiet throughout the two legs. Degen adopted the number 7 jersey from Shaqiri due to his playmaking skills.
Rafa Benitez has already shared his concerns about FC Basel publicly explaining “They’re a good team, an offensive team, and will be dangerous as well. We know Basel have a great atmosphere in their stadium [St. Jakob-Park], so it will be interesting. They are an offensive team who play with intensity, a good team who did well against Tottenham.” Having done his research about the Swiss Champions, Benitez will have a fresh team after a four day rest, following the weekend draw against Liverpool.
Missing Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill both to injuries, the big kick off decision will be whether to go with out of favor Chelsea captain John Terry or stay with David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic in the centre of defense. With the in-form midfield picking itself with the dynamic threesome of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Ramires, the lone striker position resorts to Fernando Torres. The Spaniard is better suited in the away match due to his work rate in closing down defenders on the ball. Chelsea would feel a lot more comfortable going back to Stamford Bridge with an away goal, so will Torres be able to turn on his magic in a massive cup match?
Benitez’s main objective on Thursday should be to contain Basel and keep hold of possession, mainly in the midfield three, who he can rely on to produce chances and even goals. Basel will be looking to play a cautious game, trusting Marco Streller to score up front whilst relying on Dragovic to produce a solid performance in defense. Either way, both teams will be looking to put themselves in a comfortable position for the return fixture in London.
For viewers in the United States, the match will be shown live on FOX Soccer and FOX Soccer 2Go beginning at 3pm ET on Thursday. In the other semi-final, Benfica plays Fenerbahce in Turkey. If you live in the States, that game will be shown live on Thursday at 3pm ET on FOX Soccer Plus and FOX Soccer 2Go.