MATCH REPORT: CHELSEA 3 BASEL 1 (5-2 ON AGG)
The Blues secured a second successive European final with a ruthless second-half display which saw us overcome Basel 3-1 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate, ensuring we will contest the Europa League final in Amsterdam on 15 May against Benfica, who overcame Fenerbahce in the other semi-final.
Our progression had looked in the balance when Basel took the lead with virtually the last action of the first half, Mohamed Salah firing past Cech having been denied by the Blues goalkeeper moments earlier.
The outcome of the tie, however, was shaped by a 10-minute spell early in the second half when three Chelsea goals all but booked our passage to the final.
If the first two goals were defined by their importance, the third will be remembered for its pure quality, as David Luiz - whose free-kick won us the first leg right at the death - curled a magnificent left-footed strike beyond Yann Sommer.
We can now look forward to what will hopefully be another memorable European occasion in just under a fortnight's time, but immediate attention now turns to a huge Barclays Premier League game against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Rafael Benitez made five changes to the team which beat Swansea 2-0 on Sunday. Ryan Bertrand came in for the suspended Ashley Cole at left-back, while in the centre of defence Branislav Ivanovic replaced John Terry. Frank Lampard skippered the team alongside David Luiz in midfield, while Ramires, who limped off at the weekend, pushed further forward. Victor Moses and Fernando Torres were also given the nod, ahead of Juan Mata and the ineligible Demba Ba respectively. John Mikel Obi missed out after picking up a hip injury in training.
The Blues went into the game looking for an eighth successive home win, but we were fortunate not to fall behind inside the opening minute. A header out from the back by Markus Steinhofer evaded the whole Chelsea backline, and a huge collective sigh of relief was breathed when Basel striker Marco Streller dragged his shot wide of Petr Cech's left-hand post.
The visitors were certainly up for a physical battle, with Bertrand feeling the full force of a nasty lunge by Serey Die early on, although the midfielder somehow managed to escape caution.
It was a frenetic opening to the contest, and as the 10-minute mark approached we should have taken the lead. Ramires and Torres combined to release Lampard, but as the ball failed to come down quick enough he was forced into a snap-shot and was denied what would have been a landmark goal by the post.
After the early warning we began to settle, and Torres was next to threaten, bringing a smart save out of Sommer after exchanging passes with Ramires on the edge of the penalty area.
Scoring goals hadn't been a problem for Basel on their travels in the competition, and while it was Chelsea dominating possession, Murat Yakin's side looked dangerous on the break.
Streller, who had been guilty of profligacy early in the game, almost atoned for his miss in emphatic fashion 25 minutes into the game, arriving at the far post to meet a Fabian Schar cross on the volley. The power in the strike was such that Cech stood no chance, but thankfully it flew inches wide.
Four minutes later another chance went begging at the other end; Moses pulled it across the face of the goal into the path of Ramires, but the Brazilian, who was on the floor and under pressure, struggled to get enough power behind his shot and saw Sommer make the save.
After a dominant Chelsea spell, the visitors sprang into life as half-time approached. A quick, incisive move yielded the best opportunity of the game as Salah was put through on goal, with the attacker only thwarted by the quick thinking of Cech, who raced off his line to make the save.
Basel were appealing for a penalty when Valentin Stocker's shot cannoned against Bertrand as the ball bounced around in the Blues' box from the rebound, and while that particular decision went in our favour, right on half-time the Swiss side took the lead.
Stocker was again involved, this time as the orchestrator, and it was his pass that Salah latched on to, taking time to open his body up and stroking it past Cech, levelling the tie on aggregate.
With Basel having gone in at the break with their tails up, a positive Chelsea response was imperative, and it came quicker than anybody would have expected.
Hazard, who had been a peripheral figure for much of the first half, set the tone with a brilliant solo run, and as the Belgian was crowded out Lampard took control and drove at the Basel defence. The midfielder fired towards goal and as Sommer made the save low down to his left, Torres was on hand to fire into the roof of the net and restore our aggregate advantage.
Three minutes later the game was turned well and truly on its head when we took the lead on the night. Buoyed by the equaliser, our movement was proving difficult for the away side to deal with, and as the blue shirts poured forward Torres' strike deflected into the path of Moses. The Nigerian's first effort was blocked, but the rebound fell kindly for him and he rolled the ball into an empty net to spark jubilant scenes.
It had been an electric start to the second half by Rafael Benitez's side, and one which would get even better just before the hour.
Lampard rolled the ball into the path of David Luiz, and the Brazilian curled an absolutely exquisite strike into the top corner with his left foot.
The defender has developed a penchant for spectacular goals of late, and this was another to add to his collection.
Perhaps more importantly, it was a goal which put us 5-2 ahead on aggregate and firmly in the ascendancy.
The game itself was developing into a thrilling encounter, and Basel deserved credit for the manner in which they attempted to play their way back into the game.
Our two-goal advantage on the night was almost reduced when Fabian Frei crashed a powerful effort against the bar, while Cech then saved well from Die.
Hazard, meanwhile, tried his luck with a delicate chip that Sommer managed to hold on to, and it was his last involvement as shortly after he was replaced by Juan Mata. Our first substitution had seen Ramires withdrawn for Oscar.
Nine minutes from time Nathan Ake was given his first taste of the big occasion when he replaced David Luiz, with the Brazilian receiving a wonderful ovation from the Stamford Bridge faithful as he departed.
The damage had been done by the three goals and we were able to see the game out in comfortable fashion, although Torres forced a save from Sommer on the break in the closing stages.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Bertrand; David Luiz (Ake 81), Lampard (c); Ramires (Oscar 66), Hazard (Mata 74), Moses; Torres.
Unused substitutes: Turnbull, Ferreira, Terry, Benayoun.
Scorers Torres 49, Moses 51, David Luiz 58
Booked Azpilicueta 55
Basel (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Steinhofer, Schar, Sauro, Voser; Elneny, F Frei (Diaz 74); Serey Die, Salah, Stocker (D Degen 61); Streller (c) (Zoua 61).
Unused substitutes: Vailati, Ajeti , Park Joo Ho, Cabral.
Scorer Salah 45
Booked Schar 66, Steinhofer 68, Serey Die 88
Referee Jonas Eriksson from Sweden