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Chelsea 3-1 Basel (agg. 5-2): Luiz leads Blues to Europa League final

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Chelsea 3-1 Basel (agg. 5-2): Luiz leads Blues to Europa League final
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Chelsea 3-1 Basel (agg. 5-2): Luiz leads Blues to Europa League final

LONDON - Chelsea reached its third European final in six years after winning 3-1 in its Europa League semifinal second leg against Basel.

Rafael Benitez’s team proved too strong for the Swiss minnows over the two matches and an aggregate victory of 5-2 reflected the difference in quality between the sides.

Chelsea’s place in the final, against Fenerbahce or Benfica in Amsterdam on May 15, leaves the English club on course for its second European trophy in two years.

The Europa League lacks the prestige of its richer, hallowed cousin, the Champions League, but victory in the Netherlands in 13 days would add considerable gloss to what has been a patchy, often poisonous, campaign.

Chelsea’s progress to the final also goes some way to atoning for exits at the semifinal stage in this season’s Carling Cup and FA Cup.

Basel’s manager Murat Yakin suggested before the match that his team needed a “small miracle” to progress, and halfway through the second leg an upset was possible.

Mohamed Salah’s crisp finish for Basel in first half added time leveled the scores on aggregate and put the tie in the balance.

But close-range finishes from Fernando Torres and Victor Moses, followed by an exceptional David Luiz strike, stretched Chelsea’s advantage to three goals and ended the hopes of the Swiss visitors.

Frank Lampard, who began the evening only one goal behind Bobby Tambling’s Chelsea record of 202, came close on several occasions to extending his haul, but, to the dismay of the home support who were willing him to score, he was unable to quite do so.

Nevertheless, Lampard had the consolation of leading his team to the final in the absence the benched John Terry, who made way for Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic to be paired at the back, with David Luiz retained in midfield for the third consecutive game.

The resting of Juan Mata, who was named on Monday in the PFA team of the year, illustrated Chelsea’s confidence in extending its proud record of never having lost a home semifinal leg in European competition.

Rafael Benitez was shouting out instructions from the dugout but, in the first half, it was the name of Jose Mourinho that was on the lips of the Chelsea supporters.

The former boss is set to replace Benitez at the end of the season and the denizens of The Shed and the Matthew Harding Stand made it clear, as they chanted the Portugese’s name in the first half, where their allegiances lie.

Chelsea threatened whenever it attacked but failed to convert the many chances that came its way in the opening period. Lampard hit the post with a half-volley, and Victor Moses, Eden Hazard and Ramires all squandered presentable opportunities to open the scoring.

But it was not completely one-way traffic. As it demonstrated in its quarterfinal win over Tottenham, Basel is dangerous on the counterattack.

Imposing No9 Marco Streller almost scored a wonder goal, connecting perfectly with a left-foot volley that whistled just wide of Petr Cech’s left hand post. Minutes later, Valentin Strocker got a shot on target but his effort was tamely directed straight at Cech.

Just as it appeared the first half would end goal-less, a fluent exchange of passes from Elneny and Streller put Salah through on goal and he finished with aplomb.

Before the nerve strings could really begin to tug, Chelsea ended any hopes of an upset with three goals in quick succession after the break.

In the 50th minute, Torres scooped the ball into the net after Lampard’s shot from the edge of the box was parried by Sommer in goal.

Moments later, Moses added Chelsea’s second following a powerful run into the box, a neat exchange with Torres and then a finish after collecting a fortuitous rebound.

At the hour mark, Luiz added some sheen to the win with an absolutely delightful left-footed curler from outside the penalty area. The finish, which arced beautifully around a defender and into the top corner, is a strong argument for keeping the Brazilian in midfield.

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