Luiz leads Chelsea to Europa League final

Posted by Phil Lythell

Chelsea will take part in their second major European final in 12 months and their third in six seasons after beating Basel 3-1 to book their place in Amsterdam.

- Chelsea reaches Europa League final
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The Blues now have the opportunity to become the first team ever to become holders of both the Champions League and the UEFA Cup/Europa League at the same time even if it would only be for a matter of days. They could also become only the third team -- fourth if you include Barcelona's Inter-Cities Fairs Cup triumph -- to win all three major UEFA tournaments if they can add to the European Cup and Cup Winners Cup that already reside in their trophy cabinet.

There was a concern before the game that a sense of entitlement might creep into the team with the 2-1 advantage established and it manifested itself to certain degree on the pitch. There was little intensity in Chelsea's play in the first 45 minutes, though with not much threat emanating from the opposition, perhaps that was not all that surprising. The first half gave the impression that some of those in blue were playing intentionally within themselves with David Luiz particularly sterile, presumably protecting himself from picking up the yellow card that would have ruled him out of the final.

The lack of precision and tempo almost dictated that Basel would take the lead on the stroke of halftime which they did from their most coherent move of the half. They say that netting just before the break is the best time to score, though in fact, it played into the hands of the hosts. Rafa Benitez was able to send his players out for the second half with fresh motivation with the very real danger of missing out on the final at the forefront of their minds.

The reaction was superb and within 15 minutes the furrowed brows among the crowd were replaced with universal smiles and songs heralding their impending invasion of Holland's premier city. Whether it was the words delivered by the manager or the innate determination within the players themselves, there was a renewed vigour about Chelsea after the break -- much like in the FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City -- and the big names stepped up to the mark.

Eden Hazard's wonderful weaving run resulted in a tap-in for Fernando Torres before the Spaniard in turn allowed Victor Moses to double the lead. But the show was well and truly stolen by the man who has been a colossus for the club over the past few months. Having freed himself of his early shackles, the real David Luiz was awoken from his slumber in the second half and curled an exquisite shot with his left (wrong) foot into the top corner to extinguish all Swiss hope before the hour was up. Luiz's rise to prominence could not be better-timed with the games getting more and more important with each passing day. The Brazilian has become a true leader on the field with both his deeds and his attitude, so much so that the muck and bullets inspiration that has been the hallmark of John Terry's reign as the top dog at Stamford Bridge is missed far less than it was earlier in this topsy-turvy campaign.

Now Luiz will come face-to-face with his former club Benfica in the final after the Portuguese giants overcame Fenerbahce in Lisbon and Chelsea's cult-hero will not lack for motivation when he takes the field in Amsterdam. Ramires is another to have featured for both teams and will be equally determined to leave a favourable impression.

Even so, Chelsea could not ask for a much tougher opponent. Benfica gave the Blues a thorough examination in last season's Champions League quarterfinal with the tie in the balance until Raul Meireles blasted the Blues into the last four in the closing minutes of the second leg. Their manager Jorge Jesus is a vocal critic of English football and will be especially keen to exact revenge. Midfielder Nemanja Matic was on Chelsea's books before being included as a make-weight in the deal that brought Luiz to West London. He will have a major point to prove to his former employers while Oscar Cardoso and Nicolas Gaitan are potent threats going forward. Chelsea will need their wits about them if they are to contain them both.

But those worries can wait for the time being. The most pressing concern for fans now is getting hold of tickets. As is the norm with major sporting events these days, the lion's share of seats appear to be distributed to people with just a passing interest in the action with Chelsea receiving less than 10,000 tickets in a stadium that holds over five times that amount. It all means that there will be a thriving black market in the Netherlands on 15th May as you can guarantee that the swathe of blue in the Amsterdam ArenA will cover far more than a fifth of the stadium

Let the games begin!

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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