An Impressive CV
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 2nd 2013)
Rafa Benítez remains an unpopular figure with Chelsea fans, but the former Valencia and Liverpool may have the last laugh as his team comfortably saw off the challenge of Swiss champions Basel 5-2 on aggregate tonight. Benítez, whose CV includes the Champion’s League, UEFA Cup and the Primera División titles – all earned with teams bearing his stamp – will now have the chance to add the Europa League to his collection.
Carrying a 2-1 lead from the first leg in Switzerland, Chelsea could afford profligacy in the first half at Stamford Bridge and eventually emerged from the spectre of an upset when Tottenham Hotspur target Mohamed Salah put the visitors ahead in injury time in the first half with three second half goals by Fernando Torres, Victor Moses and a spectacular David Luiz effort.
That proved more than enough for Chelsea to turn their thoughts to Amsterdam. Benfica beat Fenerbahçe 3-1 on the night – 3-2 on aggregate. The Europa League is now Roman Abramovich’s only chance of a trophy in this fractious season, which has seen Benítez endure a torrid reception from Chelsea fans that continued tonight.
Interim manager Benítez cannot have failed to have heard Chelsea fans loudly and repeatedly chanting the name of former boss José Mourinho, who seems certain to leave Real Madrid at the end of the season after three years in the Spanish capital to come to an end. After 16 minutes another name, last year’s saviour Roberto di Matteo’s rang out too, but the interim boss has the chance to sign off with a trophy for a club now accustomed to success and a rebuilt reputation after a disastrous spell in charge of Inter.
Twists and Turns
An even first half with efforts from Torres and a bad miss by Ramires ended with the shock of Salah being put through by Valentin Stocker to deftly chip over the helpless Petr Čech and silence the crowd. There was barely time to restart.
Salah had previously shown the talent that has attracted Spurs to track him. An inch-perfect cross-field pass found Marco Streller, but the chance was wasted. The uglier side of Basel’s game soon surfaced. Despite his pleading not exactly innocence, Serey Die deserved more than just a talking to from referee Jonas Eriksson for his lunge on Ryan Bertrand.
Chelsea’s left-back avoided injury by hurdling the lunge. Die deserved a booking and didn’t learn his lesson. He was subsequently booked for a crunchingly bad foul on substitute Oscar in the second half. Torres is playing with confidence again, wasteful or not. A scuffed shot by Frank Lampard beat the keeper, but not the post. After a neat exchange of passes and flicks with Moses, Torres’ swivel and shot demanded a smart save from Yann Sommer at the expense of a corner.
With 26 minutes gone Markus Steinhöfer turned provider. His cross-field pass was taken on the volley by Streller with echoes of Marco van Basten’s wonder strike in the final of Euro 88 against Russia, apart from the outcome – Streller didn’t score. 6 minutes before half time Čech spread himself well to prevent Salah opening the scoring. In the aftermath of Salah’s effort the referee waved away insistent Basel’s demands for a penalty, deciding that Stocker’s shot had hit Bertrand’s chest rather than arm. It proved a temporary reprieve.
Benítez’ half-time talk did the trick. Less than five minutes into the second half Lampard, closing in Bobby Tambling’s Chelsea record, saw his shot saved by Sommer who parried it into the path of Torres who sated himself on the scraps. Mohamed Elneney’s effort previously had failed to trouble Čech.
Four minutes later African Cup of Nations winner Moses found Torres on the edge of the area. The former Liverpool striker’s shot was blocked, but the rebound found Moses and he doubled Chelsea’s lead on the night. The ten minute period that changed the course of the match ended with a goal to grace any match. Luiz’ 25 yard strike left Sommer nothing more than an admiring spectator.
Any thoughts that the job was done, however, were firmly laid to rest by Fabian Frei’s superb strike. Only the woodwork saved Chelsea as Čech stood rooted to the spot and Salah could not profit from the rebound. Fabian Schär’s tug on Torres earned him a yellow card, but Lampard’s free-kick flew high and ugly.
With just over 15 minutes left substitute Eden Hazard was tugged back near the halfway line. His audacious chip from just inside his own half almost embarrassed Sommer., but the keeper got back in time to claim the ball. With time running out Die picked up a deserved booking. It didn’t matter. Chelsea could book their tickets to Amsterdam.