Wed, May 1, 10:51pm by Kevin Pitstock
With half of the Champions League semi-finals behind us (Borussia Dortmund went through on aggregate despite losing to Real Madrid 2-nil) and the Barcelona – Bayern Munich Champions League match to go tonight, we keep our attention in Europe for the second leg of the Europa League semi-finals. The Europa league semis kick off simultaneously at 21.05 with Chelsea hosting Swiss side FC Basel in London whilst SL Benfica host Fenerbahçe SK in Portugal. Fenerbahçe hold a 1-nil edge over Benfica despite hitting the frame three times in their home match in Istanbul, Turkey. Chelsea hold home field advantage and a 2-1 edge, as Victor Moses and David Luiz penned their names onto the score sheet in scoring two decisive away goals for the Blues.
Chelsea hold a 2 – 1 Aggregate Advantage
In the reverse leg, David Luiz broke the deadlock in stoppage time to give the Blues a 2-1 edge. His last second effort one-upped Basel’s Fabian Schar strike from the penalty spot at St. Jakob Park.
This match could be somewhat overshadowed by a somewhat cryptic comment made by former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho after his Real Madrid side were eliminated from the Champions League on Tuesday. Mourinho hinted that he wants to manage in a country where he is loved. When he was the Chelsea boss, the fans adored “the special one”. It is no secret that current boss Rafa Benitez is on his way out at the close of the season. Benitez failed to win over the hearts of the Blues supporters, as he managed rival side Liverpool and historically has had less than nice things to say about Chelsea and their supporters during his Liverpool reign.
Subplots aside, Chelsea are the only remaining unbeaten side in the Europa League, whilst Basel are the only remaining club who won their own domestic league. In addition to the uphill battle due to the aggregate scoreline, Basel have quite an uphill battle ahead of them. Swiss sides have not won in England in their last eighteen tries (since 1995). Additionally, Chelsea are on a twelve match unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge, as it has been over two years since they last experienced defeat in London in a European fixture.
A Chelsea win here or a draw will send the Blues through to the finals. Should they go through and win the Europa League, they will make history. Chelsea could become the first club to win the Champions League and Europa League in successive seasons in reverse order of prestige. Additionally, an outright win in the finals (if they go through) would make Chelsea the fourth side to win the UEFA treble (European Cup, Champions League, and Europa League).
Expect this match to be exciting. However, Rafa Benitez will draw on his managerial experience in European competition to give his side the edge. Rafa has managed more UEFA matches than the other three managers combined (137 matches for Benitez, whilst the remaining managers have been at the helm for 105).
Expect to see Fernando Torres playing up top with Juan Mata, Victor Moses, and Oscar in support. Torres leads Chelsea in the competition with four goals to his name, whilst Moses is in prime European form – having scored three times in five matches. Eden Hazard is likely to come off the bench in the event that Chelsea find themselves in trouble. Basel do have threats in striker Marco Streller (4 goals in the competition), and midfielder Valentin Stocker, who is on three goals in the Europa League.
Prediction: Chelsea 2 – FC Basel 1 – Torres scores.
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The visitors hold a 1-nil aggregate edge over home side Benfica. The Portuguese club are unbeaten in their last thirteen UEFA home matches and will prove to be tough hosts. However, Fenerbahçe have no intentions of laying down, as they too are without a loss in their last six Europa away trips.
These two clubs lined up against one another in the European Champion Clubs Cup – back in 1975. Fenerbahçe got off to a 1-nil advantage in their home tie. However, they had their doors blown off in the reverse fixture, as they dropped a 7-nil result in Portugal to lose 7-1 on aggregate. Their loss remains the biggest loss in the history of UEFA competitions.
A win or draw for Fenerbahçe will see them through to their first European finals. Their current away form places them tied for the record number of away matches in the Europa League without a loss. A seventh unbeaten road trip on Thursday will see them edge out FC Porto, PAOK FC, and Athletico Madrid. They hold a lifetime record of one win and two losses when travelling to Portugal in European matches. Fenerbahçe will rely on the experience of two players that are quite familiar with European play – Raul Meireles and Dirk Kuyt. This duo played for Liverpool, whilst Meireles stopped in for a spell at Chelsea before moving to Turkey. Meireles ironically factored into last season’s Champions League quarterfinals meeting with Benfica, where he scored a late goal to send Chelsea through at the expense of Benfica.
Benfica boasts three wins and two draws against three losses at home against Turkish sides in Europe. They are 17-2-0 at home in their last nineteen European matches. Benfica may well have their hands full with the visiting Turkish club. The home side must score in order to have a chance at going through, whilst playing a defensive game simultaneously. Oscar Cardozo has four goals for Benfica in this year’s competition, whilst six of his teammates are on a goal apiece.
Prediction: Benfica 1 – Fenerbahçe 1 (Fenerbahçe goes through on aggregate)
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