First there were seven, and now there is just one. If we aren’t doing an Arsene Wenger and counting a top-four finish in the Premier League (and we’re not) then of all the trophies Chelsea could have won when the season started in August, only the Europa League remains – a competition they never wanted to be in anyway.
The Premier League, Community Shield, Super Cup, Champions League, World Club Cup, Capital One Cup and FA Cup have all bitten the dust, leaving Chelsea with the booby prize of Europe’s second tier competition to play for, with their semi-final first-leg against Basel in Switzerland to come on Thursday night.
Of course, if we are to put a positive spin on things then the Europa League is the only regular competition that Chelsea are yet to win in the ten years of the Roman Abramovich era, and to lift the trophy in Amsterdam next month would go some way to salvaging a bizarre and underachieving season at Stamford Bridge.
Rafa Benitez, for one, will be gunning to do just that, as for him to win something given all that he has been through with the Chelsea fans would be a real feather in his cap, but as the Blues travel to St-Jakob Park to face Basel, there is still plenty of work to do for that to become a reality.
In fact, looking at the prices, the 21/10 on the Swiss league leaders taking an advantage to west London next Thursday looks far too big to pass up. The draw is quoted at 12/5, and there are more reasons to oppose Chelsea at 6/5 than there are to back them.
Benitez boasts the better players, of that there is no doubt, but this is a far tougher assignment than those odds imply. Basel are top of the Swiss Super League and on course for treble, and Chelsea should take note of their last tie against Tottenham Hotspur.
They showed against Spurs over two legs, where they were unfortunate not to win either match before prevailing on a penalty shoot-out, that they have a lot about them and Murat Yakin’s side have been excellent at home all season: Basel have won 11 and drawn three of their 14 home league games, and their form on their own patch in Europe has been even more impressive.
Yakin‘s men have won four and drawn two of their six Europa League matches in front of their own fans, netting 12 goals and keeping four clean sheets, and Chelsea’s away form is ropey enough to think they can make that five victories.
The Blues have won just three of their last 13 away games, losing five and conceding 19 goals in the process, and on their travels in Europe this year, Chelsea have been poor.
Under Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea lost at Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus in the Champions League, while Benitez has overseen away losses to Steaua Bucharest and Rubin Kazan in this competition and with the Spaniard rotating his team to excess in this tournament, you are never sure which Chelsea is going to turn up.
And with more than one eye on their league match with Swansea on Sunday, a game of paramount importance in the quest for a top-four finish, I think it is worth taking a chance on Basel at a tasty-looking 21/10.