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Thursday 25 April 2013

Europa League: Duo return to Chelsea squad

Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill could feature in first leg of UEFA Europa League semi-finals

Centre-half Gary Cahill has not played for Chelsea since the middle of March

Chelsea begin their attempt to reach the final of the UEFA Europa League when they travel to FC Basel for Thursday night’s semi-final first leg.

The Blues are aiming to become only the fourth side to win all three of Europe’s major club competitions having won the UEFA Champions League last year and the Cup Winners' Cup in 1971 and 1998.

But in their way lie the Swiss Super League leaders, who have defeated Dnipro, Zenit St Petersburg and Tottehnam Hotspur on their way to the last four.

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

"[Playing Chelsea] is for the whole team an indescribable thing"
Aleksandar Dragovic

"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."

Chelsea are unbeaten in their last three matches in the Barclays Premier League and have overcome Sparta Prague, Steaua Bucharest and Rubin Kazan in the Europa League knockout stages.

Defenders Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill are back in the match-day squad having been out with hamstring and knee injuries respectively.

Cole has not played since the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Manchester United on 1 April while Cahill had minor surgery at the end of March. Forward Oscar has travelled with the squad despite limping off during Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Liverpool with a groin problem.

Meanwhile, Basel defender Aleksandar Dragovic says the club is relishing the prospect of taking on last year's European champions.

'David vs Goliath'

"This [playing Chelsea] is for the whole team an indescribable thing," he said. "We have worked hard for it. For each individual there is a huge feeling, we are extremely pleased at this game.

"You get it already with how the whole town is talking about the game. You can feel that the whole region of Basel, and even the whole of Switzerland, is behind us. We will, of course, try to represent FC Basel as well as possible.

"It is David versus Goliath and Chelsea are the big favourites. They have players like David Luiz, who is one of the best defenders, and Fernando Torres, who is an excellent striker and also very fast. 

"I could list more players, we look at everything, but we want to be able to enjoy the two games against them."

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Key Points

  • Chelsea take on FC Basel in first leg of UEFA Europa League semi-finals on Thursday
  • Defenders Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill return to Blues squad
  • Basel defeated Tottenham Hotspur in the last round