Mata: Chelsea deserves to be in Champions League
LONDON (AP) — Closing in on the Europa League final, Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata seems ill at ease in the continent’s second-tier knockout competition.
Chelsea dropped out of the Champions League when its title defense ended in the group stage, and is yet to be assured of a place among Europe’s elite next season by finishing in the Premier League’s top four.
“Chelsea is a club which deserves to be in the Champions League every season,” Mata said Wednesday. “We are in third position, we have four games to go, against the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham, and I think we can do (it) ... since we were out from the group in the Champions League, every time I watch the games I think it’s a shame.”
Having started the season with no plans even to be in the Europa League, winning it would at least enable Chelsea to add to its trophy cabinet next month.
Going into the semifinal second leg on Thursday, Chelsea holds a 2-1 lead over Basel thanks to David Luiz’s late free kick in Switzerland last week.
“It’s the kind of game that can be risky for us,” Mata said. “If we don’t go into it thinking about winning and defending well it will be difficult ... it’s very important to have a chance to be in another European final.
“After winning the Champions League last season we have another chance to win a trophy that will be new to us, so it means a lot, for the club and the players.”
In contrast to Chelsea, Basel not only tops the Swiss league but is through to the domestic cup final.
“Next to trying to win the domestic league title again, the Europa League is like a dessert for us,” Basel goalkeeper Yann Sommer said.
Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez is wary of the threats posed by a team that knocked out Premier League rival Tottenham in the quarterfinals.
“I am concerned but I am not afraid,” Benitez said. “We know they are a dangerous team, we know they are strong and score goals away.
“But we know we have a good team and are so close to the final we have to be focused and not make mistakes.”
One concern is that Luiz, Ramires, Ryan Bertrand and John Obi Mikel are one booking away from missing the final in Amsterdam.
“The main thing is to win and qualify for the final,” Benitez said.
Like Basel, Benfica is also chasing a treble, and needs to overturn a 1-0 deficit at home to Fenerbache.
But the Portuguese side has found it grueling to establish a four-point lead at home with three matches to go, and also reaching the domestic cup final.
“We have no time to rest or recover,” coach Jorge Jesus said. “It’s really wearing us down, but we’re already in one final and want to be in another ... we’ll need a full stadium, with the fans willing us on to victory. We’ll need their help to give us strength.”
But striker Oscar Cardozo insists fatigue is not affecting the team.
“We’re fine,” he said. “We have had many games but we feel good for tomorrow and I think we will all be 100 percent.”
Benfica is trying to reach its ninth European final, but Fenerbache is seeking its first.
“It would be great for Turkish football, for the club and for the fans,” striker Moussa Sow said. “What we are achieving is huge.”