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Benitez: 'Champions League is vital for Chelsea'

ESPN staff
April 25, 2013
Chelsea train ahead of Basel semi-final clash

Interim Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez has reminded his players of the importance of securing a top-four finish this season ahead of Thursday night's Europa League semi-final against FC Basel.

Benitez suggested that a top-four finish in the Premier League is a priority for the Blues ahead of their bid to secure more European silverware in the final month of the season.

"My message to the players has been simple - we have to be in the Champions League next season," he told reporters at FC Basel's St Jakob-Park stadium. "They have to realise how important that is for themselves.

"For me, everything is a bonus. If we win the Europa League, finish in the top three, it will be fantastic. But the players have to realise it is even more important for them."

Benitez went on to express his belief that he has "done a good job" in what has been a turbulent few months steering the Chelsea ship, even though he has come under fire from sections of the Stamford Bridge faithful throughout his tenure.

"People have been asking me how I think I will be remembered when I leave Chelsea," he added. "I believe it will be as a professional, someone who worked hard, always trying to do my best.

"I'm managing a top side and given the circumstances of everything around I think we are doing a good job. People all around can argue about it but with the circumstances we have had, the number of games, you put everything together, we are there.

"Obviously fatigue when you play so many games and travel around Europe is a key factor to consider. I praise my staff because we try to manage the squad in the best way possible.

"In the end, the team is producing good performances and we have fresh legs in some players. We have to rotate, change and manage players."

Meanwhile, Benitez is expecting a tough clash in Basel, praising his opponents ahead of the clash.

"Basel is in the semi-final and deserve to be there," said Benitez. "They've worked very hard, have played well, and are well organised. They press well and launch good counter-attacks.

"They have good players with pace and ability, so we will have to do really well if we want to win.

"Philipp Degen was my player [at Liverpool] and is a good professional, a worker who enjoys playing football. They have some good young players and others with more experience."

Basel coach Murat Yakin says he is confident his men can overcome Chelsea, claiming his side will take a fearless attitude into Thursday's clash.

Basel coach Murat Yakin has already seen off the challenge of Tottenham on penalties in the previous round © PA Photos
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Yakin's men are aiming to qualify for the final in Amsterdam, and the manager will have all of his squad members available for the fixture. Basel have not lost a game at home during their European campaign in 2012/13, and Yakin believes that form will continue in the final four.

"The English style is very close to ours," Yakin, 38, told the pre-match press conference on Wednesday. "That's why I am confident for our game against Chelsea.

"We have nothing to lose. I want the team to be courageous. We want to try and dominate the opponent. It worked out pretty well for us until now."

Basel have not lost to a Premier League club since going down to Fulham in 2009. In that time, Manchester United and Tottenham have not been able to claim victory in Switzerland.

"I don't want to draw any comparisons between the two parties. It will be equal pressure for both teams, it is about reaching the final. We will need some luck to get a good starting point. But I am in cheerful spirits we can deliver a good game on Thursday. You never know where this road will lead us to," Yakin said.

Meanwhile, Yakin has cheekily claimed that his side are unlikely to resort to "Dracula tactics" against the Blues, in reference to Suarez's well-publicised bite on Branislav Ivanovic.

"I hope Ivanovic won't be suffering from rabies when he comes over to Basel," Yakin joked. "Will we also use Dracula tactics on Chelsea? We have the necessary bite to do so - but I would prefer it if the match doesn't end up resembling a game of Pac-Man."

Form

Chelsea have only collected one win in their last four outings, and will still be reeling from conceding a last-second equaliser to Liverpool and Luis Suarez on Sunday. However, they have scored in 11 consecutive games, and will be difficult to shut out.

Basel have yet to taste defeat in April - a run which stretches eight games - and come into the semi-finals on a high following their shootout victory over Spurs. The Swiss outfit top their domestic league by three points, but despite being the underdogs Yakin will approach the game the same way he did in the tie against Tottenham.

Fernando Torres will be looking to add to his seven goals in Europe against Basel © PA Photos
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Team news

The return of Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole have given Chelsea a boost, with Cahill likely to make the first team. Oscar - who netted the opening goal at Anfield on Sunday - has also been named in the squad by Benitez.

Basel will be without striker Alexander Frei, who announced his retirement in order to become a sporting director at Lucerne.

One to watch

Fernando Torres may not be enjoying the best of times in the Premier League, but in Europe the Spaniard has looked like his old self, notching up seven goals so far in both the Champions League and Europa League.

Prediction and bet

Chelsea are aiming to do what Manchester United and Tottenham could not, and win on Basel soil. Not so long ago dreams of an FA Cup and Europa League double were alive, but now Europe is the Blues' only hope of silverware this season.

Torres will have a say in the encounter given his goalscoring record in Europe in the campaign, and the striker to score at anytime on bet365 with Chelsea to win 2-1 at 17/2 is our pick of the bets.

Final score: 1-2

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