Chelsea have been trading as favourites to win the Europa League for a while now and took a comfortable path through their quarter final tie, as expected. As for Swiss side FC Basel, they are targeting the goal of becoming the first ever club from Switzerland to make it to the final of a major UEFA tournament. They have already knocked out on English Premier League side on the way to the semi’s and now have the chance to claim another major scalp. With superb form at home, the Swiss side will bring their threats to the table, but will start the tie as underdogs against Chelsea, who would make a clean sweep of all of UEFA major competitions should they win the modern version of the UEFA Cup.
Blues boss Rafa Benitez is the only coach out of the last four who has won a major European trophy before. He won the UEFA Cup with Valencia back in 2004 so has experience and history. Chelsea betting themselves well with a 3-1 home win over Rubin Kazan in the quarter finals and looked to be cruising at 2-1 up in the return leg in Moscow. There was some late drama though as the Russian side hit back, but Chelsea held on, always looking to just have the edge in doing enough, and took a 5-4 aggregate win. After becoming the first reigning Champions League holders to bow out of the title defence in the group stage, they dropped to the Europa League and stumbled their way a bit past Sparta Praha and then a very gutsy Steaua Bucharest.
Because of a heavy fixture schedule and striker Demba Ba being cup-tied, Chelsea have rotated their squad a lot and now have to navigate their way through a tricky first leg of the semi final out in Switzerland, where their opponents have a great run of form going. In Chelsea’s only previous meeting with a Swiss side, the Blues lost 2-1 on aggregate against FC St Gallan in the first round of the 2000/01 UEFA Cup. There will be just a slight concern for Chelsea in this one in their away form, as they have lost their last two in Europe now (against Steaua and Rubin). In the UEFA Cup itself, they have just a W2 D0 L5 away record. An away goal in the first leg would settle the Blues down tremendously.
Quietly but assuredly, the Swiss side have progressed. They have played more games than any of the other four teams have done in this year’s Europa League, after having to come through qualification. Since the start of the group stage, they have gone unbeaten in their six home matches played at St Jakob Park. Also a big concern for Chelsea is that FC Basel have averaged exactly two goals per game at home in the Europa League this season. It has been pretty impressive stuff on home turf from the Swiss side. They stunned Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in the first leg of their quarter final tie, the Premier League side being unable to deal with the pace that FC Basel played going forward. With Spurs earning a 2-2 draw back in Basel, the Swiss side had to come through a nerve-wracking penalty shoot out to make it through to the semi’s. So that set up the Chelsea clash and the chance of another major scalp. FC Basel have already shown that they are very committed and play some good football on the deck and this tie will be all about what happens in Switzerland in the first leg. If the Blues fail to get an away goal, they could be on slight shaky ground, although the Swiss side have never won in England before.
Chelsea v FC Basel Head to Head
This will be the first meeting between the two sides, but FC Basel have plenty of experience against English teams. At home they have a W3 D2 L3 record, but overall their record against English sides stands at W3 D7 L8. Chelsea’s experience against Swiss sides stands at W1 D0 L1, their win coming at Stamford Bridge.
The 2013 Europa League evolved from the former UEFA Cup, one of Europe’s premier club football competitions. British clubs enjoyed considerable success in the early years of the competition, Tottenham winning the first tournament under the UEFA Cup title in 1971-72. Italian clubs began to dominate in the 1980’s following back-to-back success for Real Madrid in 1984-85 and 1985-86. British clubs had to wait seventeen years before Liverpool recorded their third success in 2000-01 and they remain the last British side to triumph
Only Juventus have matched Liverpool’s record of three tournament victories but the current force to be reckoned with comes from Spain in the form of Atletico Madrid, winners in 2009/10 and most recently in 2011/12. Under the present system, clubs eliminated from the third qualifying round of the Champions League and the eight third-placed finishers at the end of the group stage of the same competition enter the competition after the first group stage has been completed. This format has been criticised and is presently under review.
Atletico Madrid are not surprisingly rated tournament favourites but Chelsea’s surprise elimination from the Champions League at the group stage means that the European champions drop into the Europa League. The two sides met in the Super Cup in 2012, Atletico running out comfortable 4-1 winners. Although Chelsea’s main priority will be to guarantee their place in next season’s Champions League uewith a top four finish in the Premier League, they will certainly be keen to prove their European pedigree in this competition. Their recent £7.5 million signing Demba Ba will not be eligible to represent them in this tournament having already played for Newcastle.
Chelsea have been drawn against Sparta Prague in the last 32 as they attempt to join Juventus, Ajax and Bayern Munich as the only sides to win all of the major European trophies. The Premiership is also represented by Tottenham, twice winners of the UEFA Cup, Liverpool and Newcastle United. Spurs are now coached by former Blues boss Andre Villas-Boas and face Ligue 1 side Lyon in the last 32 whilst Liverpool face Zenit St Petersburg and Newcastle play Metalist Kharkiv. Liverpool will be able to play their new £12 million signing, Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea. Defending champions Atletico face Russian side Rubin Kazan and are priced at around 6-1 in the Europa League betting.
Chelsea are priced at 7-1 to gain compensation for their Champions League exit with Inter Milan (12-1), Napoli (16-1) and Lazio (20-1) expected to form a strong Italian challenge. Russia’s Anzhi Makhachkala could be the tournament dark horses at 14-1 and they play Hannover in the last 32. Dutch champions Ajax should not be overlooked and are set to meet Steaua Bucharest whilst Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen play Portugal’s Benfica.
The first leg ties take place on Thursday 14th February with the return legs played on the 21st. The winners of those ties then meet in the last 16 on March 7th and 14th with the quarter-finals on the 4th and 11th April. The semi-finals are scheduled to take place on 25th April and 2nd May with the final itself on Wednesday 15th May at the Amsterdam Arena.