The good news – the only good news according to Blues boss Jose Mourinho – is that Chelsea have qualified for the Round of 16 of the Champions League. The bad news is that they were beaten 1-0 in Switzerland by Basel and qualified for the knockout stages as a result of Schalke’s inability to get a win when they visited Steaua Bucharest (with whom they played out a 0-0 bore draw).
Basel’s victory over Chelsea means they have beaten them home and away in Group E, much to Mourinho’s chagrin. And – despite there being just a single goal in it – Basel were worthy victors: they had the majority of the possession and created far more chances than the visitors. In fact Mourinho’s men failed to get a single shot on target, something that will be a major concern to the manager and fans alike.
Mohamed Salah – who scored the first in Basel’s 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge in September – was the sole scorer on Tuesday. The Egyptian got free of Branislav Ivanovic before latching on to a ball from Fabian Schar and beating Petr Cech. A point against Schalke in their final group match will now be enough to see Basel through to the knockout stages.
To make matters worse for the Blues, Samuel Eto’o was carried off with a groin injury late in the first half, and though he was replaced by Fernando Torres – himself returning from injury – the Spaniard looked devoid of energy and lacked any bite or creativity. Why Mourinho let the free-scoring Romelu Lukaku go to Everton for the season is still anyone’s guess!
Despite losing to Basel twice in the group stage, Chelsea are still top of Group E on nine points, one ahead of their conquerors, and two ahead of Schalke. As such a draw in their final match against Steaua Bucharest will be enough to see Chelsea finish as group winners if Basel fail to beat Schalke, but we would expect the Blues to hammer the Romanians at the Bridge given they won over there by an emphatic 4-0 scoreline.
Prior to that though Chelsea have some key games back in the Premier League, starting with a tough-looking home match against a Southampton side who have confounded pundits with their fantastic form this term. Following that there are two eminently winnable away matches against Sunderland (who the Blues will also meet in the League Cup quarter-final on 17th December) and Stoke, but either of those could be potential banana skins too if Chelsea don’t raise their game from the level of performance they showed in Basel.
Intriguingly – and frustratingly for many Blues fans – Juan Mata was left on the bench as an unused substitute on Tuesday, and given the side lacked spark, invention and guile, surely now is the time to bring the Spaniard back into the fold? But then who are we to make such a suggestion to the Special One?