Chelsea add Egyptian winger Mohammed Salah.

Europa League Preview: FC Basel v. Chelsea

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When Chelsea head to St. Jakob’s Park to take on FC Basel in the first-leg of the UEFA Europa League semi-finals on Thursday, it will mark the first competitive encounter between the two clubs.

How They Got There

Basel made it to the semi-final stage after eliminating Tottenham 4-1 on penalties after a second leg 2-2 draw left the teams locked 4-4 on aggregate. The feat took the Swiss side’s record against English clubs to three wins, seven draws and eight loses, with all three victories coming on home soil. And it’s no secret that home fixtures are where the RotBlau thrive. Since the start of the group stage Basel have gone unbeaten in their last six Europa League contests at St. Jakob’s Park.

Chelsea qualified for the last four with a 5-4 aggregate win over Rubin Kazan. The Blues only previous encounter with Swiss opponents was a loss at the hands of FC St. Gallen in the first round of the 2000-01 UEFA Cup. After Chelsea managed a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge, the Blues couldn’t handle the rigors of Zurich’s Hardturm Stadium and lost 2-0. This season, the road has been equally unkind to Rafa Benitez’ men who have lost four of their past five European away games.

What’s On The Line

Having entered the competition in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League, Basel has played more European matches this season (18) than any other remaining club. With a win on Thursday, Murat Yakin’s side, who have won three straight domestic titles, will become the first Swiss club to reach a European final.

Along with Benfica, Chelsea are the only side left in the Europa League that entered the competition after crashing out of the Champions League group stage. A win on Thursday will be a key step in Chelsea’s bid to become the first side to win the Champions League and Europa League in reverse order in consecutive seasons.

Key Matchups

The first matchup likely to have an affect on the outcome is between Chelsea striker Fernando Torres and Basel center-back Alexander Dragovic.

Torres, along with Basel’s Marco Streller and Benfica’s Óscar Cardozo, leads the competition in goals scored with four apiece. The Chelsea hitman has scored three goals in his last two Europa League competitions, the second being a dominant brace emblematic of the Spaniard’s new found confidence. Since donning the black face protector – which Torres claims is very uncomfortable – the striker has looked lighter on his feet, been more decisive in his decision making and shown an aerial dominance for which he is not typically known.

It’s a combination that Dragovic will be tasked to contain. The 6′ 1″ center-back is well known for his powerful style, which should make for a good physical battle with Torres. The Spaniard is never afraid to get his socks dirty but will likely be more inclined to use his pace to get around Dragovic, rather than blasting through him. While physically imposing, Dragovic is hardly a brute as he possesses a slick range of passes that has attracted the likes of various Premier League clubs including Arsenal. The Austrian previously displayed his talents to Manchester United in last season’s Champions League where his Basel side defeated the Red Devils, preventing them from advancing out of the group stage.

The second matchup set to decide matters will feature Basel’s Mohamed Salah (pictured) and Chelsea’s Ashley Cole.

Salah is a right winger with blazing speed, cat-like balance and a slick touch. So far this term the Egyptian international has run Zenit and Tottenham ragged and also managed to score the crucial 27th minute leveler in the 2-2 draw with Spurs that sent Basel through to the semi-finals. The goal was an important feat for Salah who has been criticized for not being clinical enough in front of goal. But with more assists than any player in the competition (four), Salah possesses a wide array of weapons with which to terrorize opponents.

Cole will be the target of Salah’s trickery. The Chelsea full-back is expected to start after recovering from injury and he’ll be hoping for a clean bill of health if he is to put the clamps on the Basel winger. Whereas William Gallas and Benoît Assou-Ekotto were unable to cope with Salah, Cole is faster and smarter than both Spurs defenders. Further, Cole is a creator who is capable of getting forward and providing opportunities for his teammates. Salah, not known for his desire to get back on defense, could be in for a stamina battle if Cole decides to push hard up the flank.

Three things we learned from Arsenal’s win vs. Manchester United

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LONDON — Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-0 on Sunday at the Emirates, as the Gunners ran riot after scoring three times in the opening 19 minutes.

[ MORE: Alexis’ stunner extends Gunners lead ]

Two stunning goals from Alexis Sanchez and another from the brilliant Mesut Ozil did the damage early on and the Gunners eased to victory as they moved into second place in the Premier League standings.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Here’s a snippet of what we learned from Arsenal’s big win and United’s demoralizing defeat.


Much was written and said in the week about Arsene Wenger‘s side losing 3-2 to Olympiakos in the UEFA Champions League to leave their European dreams hanging by a thread. Not least about his decision to start David Opsina in place of Petr Cech. Wenger was close to walking out of his pre-match press conference on Friday as he was asked repeatedly about that decision and became a rather surely customer. Wenger’s mood will have been much different after the opening 19 minutes at the Emirates on Sunday as his side led United 3-0 with three flowing moves finished off ruthlessly. That’s not something you can usually say about the Gunners. They came racing out of the traps, dominating play with 76.5 percent of the ball in the opening 15 minutes. Sanchez and Ozil (more on the latter further down) were especially majestic, with the Chilean now scoring five times in his last two PL games as he’s finally recovered from his involvement in the Copa America over the summer which delayed his return to preseason for the Gunners. With Walcot running behind United’s defense, Sanchez and Ozil floated wide and cut inside to create havoc. Francis Coquelin‘s importance as a key cog in the Wenger machine cannot be underestimated, with the French midfielder nipping balls back to launch counter attacks and pushing high to engage United’s veteran central midfield duo of Bastian Schweinsteieger and Michael Carrick. Plus Cech’s return in goal saw him save from Anthony Martial at the end of the first half, plus he denied Wayne Rooney and Schweinsteieger in the second half. His importance to Arsenal also can’t be underestimated.

[ MORE: Standings | schedule | stats ] 

A word must also go to Walcott. Although he didn’t get on the scoresheet, the 26-year-old finally seems to have established himself as Arsenal’s first-choice central striker ahead of Olivier Giroud. He set up Ozil for his strike and was influential in stretching United’s dumbstruck defensive unit. In the second half he used his blistering pace to close down an opponent and the home fans rose to their feet to chant “THEO, THEO!” in a salute to his supreme workrate. Walcott was rewarded with a lucrative long-term deal over the summer and after almost 10 years with the Gunners, he’s finally turning into the player who can carry the weight of expectation on his shoulders.  Going into the international break, Arsenal is now two points behind first-place Manchester City and with a kind fixture list on the horizon (trips to Watford, Swansea, West Brom and Norwich away, plus home games against Tottenham and Everton), they look poised to battle with City for top spot between now and the festive period. The Gunners may be struggling in Europe, but they’ve rebounded well in the PL.


Just seven minutes into Sunday’s clash between “two title contenders,” Manchester United were found out. Specifically their makeshift backline. The Gunners ripped through United’s defense in the first half, with Sanchez scoring twice and Ozil’s strike sandwiched in-between. Arsenal’s front three of Sanchez, Walcott and Ozil tore United apart as Matteo Darmian‘s lack of pace was exposed — he was taken off by Louis Van Gaal at half time — on two of the opening three goals, plus Daley Blind let Ozil slide past him too easily to set up Sanchez for the first.

Playing a winger in Ashley Young at left back and a central midfielder in Blind at center back was always going to be found out eventually. In truth, this was United’s first big test of the season and van Gaal’s men failed miserably. Before their capitulation at Arsenal, the only game they had played against a team likely to finish in the top six was an under-strength Liverpool at home. United won that 3-1 but like most of their other wins this season, they looked far from convincing. Forwards Rooney, Memphis Depay and Martial had days to forget, but United’s biggest issue is at the back. With Luke Shaw out injured, Marcos Rojo not fancied, the same could be said for Phil Jones and LVG’s failure to bring in a top class center back in the transfer window (ahem, Nicolas Otamendi) United”s defense is devoid of pace and was unable to cope with the movement of Arsenal’s front line. We all know the Gunners can click and blow teams apart when everything slots into place, but this was a combination of United being poor and Arsenal being very, very good. United’s next three PL games will truly test their resolve and their quality, with a Manchester derby at Old Trafford against City sandwiched in-between two tough trips to Everton and high-flying Crystal Palace. If Louis van Gaal’s side can


With a deft flick early in the game to help set up an Arsenal attack, you got the sense that Ozil was in the right frame of mind on Sunday. When the enigmatic German international is on, he can rip teams apart. Central to Arsenal’s stunning opening 19 minute spell which yielded three goals, Ozil raced clear of Blind and clipped in a perfect ball to Sanchez to flick home the first. Moments later he then applied the coolest of finishes after Walcott set him up to make it 2-0 with seven minutes on the clock. The criticism of Ozil has often been that he can’t do it in the big games and he’s certainly struggled to consistently provide the goods in big moments in the past. In truth, like most of Arsenal’s players, he drifted through the second half but Ozil did the damage early and orchestrated a ruthless shaming of United’s defensive frailties.

Since his $60 million move from Real Madrid in September 2013, Ozil has both frustrated and excited Arsenal fans and neutrals. More often than not, the former. However, when he is allowed time on the ball and is ready to put on a show, Ozil is world class. There are few players able to see four or five plays ahead, but he’s one of them. When he’s tuned in he can destroy teams. Ask United, they found that out on Sunday as the one thing Wenger will crave from Ozil is more consistency from his talismanic playmaker. If he does, Ozil interchanging with the pace of Sanchez and Walcott is a frightening proposition for any PL defense to face. Going forward, this has to be Arsenal’s first-choice three in attack and if they click the way they did early on Sunday, talk of winning the title will swiftly return to the red half of north London.

Swansea 2-2 Tottenham: Eriksen free-kick double atones for Kane blooper

during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.
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  • Andre Ayew’s powerful header gave Swansea the opener
  • Christian Eriksen struck two brilliant free-kick goals
  • A Harry Kane own-goal left Spurs feeling unlucky

Tottenham will feel unlucky to be left without all three points thanks to a cringe-worthy own goal by Harry Kane, but a pair of free-kick goals from Christian Eriksen left Spurs feeling the better side and gave the visitors a 2-2 comeback draw at the Liberty Stadium.

Things started slowly, with Nacer Chadli‘s saved shot in the 12th minute the first real effort on goal, but the game would explode open with the opener just four minutes later.

Jefferson Montero collected the ball on the left edge of the box, and he chipped across the penalty area to Andre Ayew who generated shocking power with a thumping header into the far corner of the net for the game’s first goal and his fourth of the season. The goal is the first from open play for Swansea since August.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Spurs began slowly moving themselves into the ascendency and would get a reward for their efforts. Dele Alli was chopped down by Federico Fernandez just outside the box, and Christian Eriksen immediately took ownership of the free-kick. The Danish attacker ripped his hit just over the wall, and with Lukasz Fabianski poorly guessing the wrong way, it settled into the back of the net to equalize on Eriksen’s first goal of the year.

It wouldn’t stay level for long. With Swansea pushing forward, a corner swung into the box but failed to get past the first man. Unfortunately for Spurs, that first man was Harry Kane, whose ugly, wayward touch found the wrong net and gave Swansea a stunning lead.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The second half saw slight chances for either side, but Christian Eriksen was the hero again for Spurs five minutes past the hour mark. Jonjo Shelvey gave away a free kick when he fouled Alli, and as Eriksen stepped up again, he struck his second, this time a brilliantly curling effort that Fabianski had no chance to stop.

[ MORE: Click here for full lineups, stats, box score ]

Spurs nearly had the winner but Andros Townsend shot right at the goalkeeper and Fabianski was nearly wrong-footed but he saved the bobbler with his foot. Late on Eric Dier picked up a yellow card with a late challenge on Andre Ayew, his fifth on the season which leaves him suspended for next week’s match.

The points are shared, leaving Spurs with 13 to go level with Everton, and Swansea pushes up to 10 to move above Watford in 11th on goal differential.