Chelsea striker Fernando Torres believes that by reaching the semifinals of the Europa League his side have shown how seriously they have treated the sometimes-derided competition this season.
The Blues take on Basel in the first leg of their semifinal on Thursday and, although he admitted that an early exit from the Champions League was hard to swallow, Torres claims the club is now determined to succeed in the Europa League.
“All the team is enjoying this competition,” Torres said, according to Chelsea’s official Web site.
“We have given a really good performance in this competition and we have shown everyone who was maybe saying Chelsea do not care about this competition, they are going to be more focused on the FA Cup and the league, that it was not true. We are already in the semifinals and we want to go through.”
The Europa League has been particularly beneficial to Torres, who, with Demba Ba ineligible, has been an automatic first choice up front. He has scored four goals in the competition, including three in Chelsea’s 5-4 quarterfinal win on aggregate over Rubin Kazan.
“I am a part of a team and the team is doing really good performances, so it is easy for a striker to score goals when the team plays well,” Torres added.
Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez will have defenders Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill back available for the first time in three weeks for the trip to Switzerland.
Since coming through a penalty shootout to beat Tottenham in the last round two weeks ago, Basel, like Chelsea, have had a hectic schedule with three matches. It has been a successful period, though, as Murat Yakin’s men retained their lead in the Swiss Super League and moved into the final of the Swiss Cup.
Unbeaten in six matches at St. Jakob-Park in the Europa League, Yakin believes that Basel can keep that record going against Chelsea to propel them into the final.
“We have played some good matches at home, which we deserved to win," he said, according to uefa.com. "They served as a good start for the return leg. Now we need two very good performances, or one very good one and one average, to make it to the final -- we believe we can do it."
D: Degen, Schar, Dragovic, Park
M: Elneny, Die, F. Frei
F: Salah, Streller, Stocker
D: Azpilicueta, Terry, Luiz, Bertrand
M: Mikel, Lampard
Moses, Mata, Hazard
Prediction: Basel have been extremely impressive in the Europa League and Chelsea would be wise not to underestimate them as they look to reach the final. Benitez may well pick a stronger lineup than he often has in the Europa League, even with an important Premier League encounter to come on Sunday.
Basel should cause Chelsea problems going forward, but the Blues are also capable of nicking an away goal that would give them a slight edge heading back to Stamford Bridge next week.
Basel 1-1 Chelsea
Where to watch: The Europa League semifinal first leg will kick-off at 3.05 p.m. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.