Monday 19 March 2018 / 10:24 AM

Who’s Your Pick For The Semi’s?

Chelsea will be keen to hit the ground running when they take on FC Basle in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final clash at St Jakob’s Park on Thursday evening.

Following the Blues Champions League heroics of last season, the current campaign has turned into something of a damaged limitation exercise after their title defence was brought to a premature end at the group stage, thus forcing the club to ply their trade in Europe’s second biggest competition.

The Europa League is now all that Chelsea have left to fight for in terms of silverware since their recent exit from the FA Cup however they do remain in contention for a top four Premier League finish and a swift return to the Champions League in 2013/14.

Despite finding their way to the semi-final stage of the tournament and being left as the last English club competing on the continent this season, Chelsea have been far from impressive and have struggled through the rounds by the odd goal against teams such as Steaua Bucharest and Rubin Kazan.

They will want to turn things around in Switzerland facing a Basle side who are more than capable of obtaining a result if allowed to dictate the tempo of the game.

Tottenham Hotspur failed to shake Chelsea’s opponents off in the last round and were subsequently knocked out on penalties.

And if comparative domestic standings and form are anything to go by, Basle should be rated as a big danger by interim boss Rafa Benitez as his side have been evenly matched with Spurs in terms of Premier League points and success.

The Spaniard knows that a permanent position at the helm is unlikely as Chelsea’s campaign is likely to be deemed a disappointment by the majority regardless of whether they can lift the trophy in May.

But the former Liverpool manager will be adamant to sign off the season and his tenure with some form of triumph to boost his own resume if nothing else.

Chelsea will be fancied to make the final if they can escape the first leg with a score draw and if they do progress to the showpiece in Amsterdam it is probable that they will encounter Portuguese giants Benfica who are themselves on a recovery mission after a similarly poor Champions League effort.

Jorge Jesus’ men accounted for Newcastle United’s brave challenge in the quarter-finals and they now come up against Lazio conquerors Fenerbahce in the last four.

It is the first time in the club’s history that the Turks have reached this stage of a European competition and experience could well therefore play a big part in proceedings over the course of both legs.

Fenerbahce will have been pleased to draw home advantage first and they must build an advantage ahead of the return at the Stadium of Light in order to have a chance of aggregate victory.

Benfica were disappointing amongst the very best in Europe this season however they still have a squad packed full of talent – and spearheaded by talismanic striker Oscar Cardozo, it is quite possible that they will have too much in hand for the Yellow Canaries over 180 minutes of football.

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Chris Kisby

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