It’s been a good week to be a Chelsea fan, hasn’t it? As one club legend prepares to sign a much-discussed new contract while another seems to be paving the way for his return to the dug-out, the feel-good factor around SW1 even seems to have stretched to welcoming Rafael Benitez into their collective bosom.
Okay, that might be stretching the point somewhat, but with Frank Lampard looking set to extend his stay and Jose Mourinho setting his eyes on another one, the Chelsea fans have plenty to cheer, not least a good week on the pitch that has seen them climb to third in the Premier League and put one foot in the Europa League final in Amsterdam.
And when Basel travel to Stamford Bridge on Thursday for the Europa League semi-final second-leg, they will do so knowing that any advantage the home crowd may have unwittingly given them is a thing of the past – Benitez is being left to get on with his job.
The Shed End faithful haven’t decided to do a full U-turn on Benitez (they are certainly some way from going all chocolate boxes and roses) but it does seem like the hatred towards the former Liverpool boss has, if not disappeared, been put to one side in the interests of the team’s chances this season.
|Man Utd win||£87.00||(19/10)|
For that, the Chelsea fans deserve credit, although it has been easier for them to do so with the team getting results.
Because for the most part, despite their hectic schedule, that is what has been happening recently and with just over two weeks of the season left, Benitez looks on course to cement a top-four position and win a European trophy.
Of course, the next bad result will probably bring out the Benitez boo-boys in force once again, but I don’t see that result coming against Basel, who, seeking to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg, look as though their Europa League race has been run.
Chelsea are 11/25 to win at Stamford Bridge and that is a pretty fair price, and much more favourable than 16/5 on the draw or the 25/4 on the away side, because this is a home banker.
Basel have done a number on English sides in the past, with Liverpool, Manchester United and most recently Tottenham all falling victim to the Swiss side, but there will be no repeat on Thursday.
It goes without saying that Benitez can call upon more talent than his opposite number Murat Yakin, but Chelsea were far, far better than Basel last week despite playing in second gear for most of the match and their quality will prevail here.
Benitez has certainly managed to turn things around. At 2-0 down at half-time in the Blues’ FA Cup quarter-final tie at Old Trafford, you didn’t see a way back for the team, or the manager.
Yet a storming second-half performance salvaged a 2-2 draw against United and since then, Chelsea have won eight and drawn one of their 12 fixtures, with one of the defeats a meaningless 3-2 loss at Rubin Kazan.
The Blues have won ten of their last 11 games at Stamford Bridge, drawing the other one, and with seven consecutive home wins to their name they will not fear the poor-travelling Swiss side.
For a team that sits top of their domestic league, a record of five wins from 14 matches on the road is a poor return, and Basel are also yet to taste victory in six Europa League trips this season.
I am not putting anybody off getting stuck in to the 11/25, because I think Chelsea are certainties, but the 21/20 that there are more than 2.5 goals in a Blues win adds some value.
There have been over 2.5 goals in five of the Blues’ six home European games this season, with Petr Cech yet to keep a clean sheet in their three Champions League group matches against Juventus, Shakhtar and Nordsjælland or their Europa league games against Sparta Prague, Steaua Bucharest or Rubin Kazan.
In fact, there have been over 3.5 goals in in all but one of those fixtures, and you have to fancy a few more goals on Thursday.
Eight of Chelsea’s last ten games have seen at least three goals, while six of Basel’s last seven outings have done likewise.
And with Benitez’s men looking like sure things to cement their place in the final, take the 21/20 that there are three or more goals while they do so.