Blues backlash could flatten Basel

Posted by Mark Worrall

Looking to swiftly banish the memory of Saturday evening’s frustrating 1-0 defeat at Everton, Wednesday's Champions League group stage opener with FC Basel at Stamford Bridge gives Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho the opportunity to address the key issue that encumbered his team at Goodison Park -- profligacy in front of goal.

Mourinho was honest enough about the Blues' shortcomings in his post-match interview: "We had chances and chances and people with experience in football know this happens week after week in football stadiums," he bemoaned. "If you don't score, what you create means nothing, and if you don't create but you score a goal you can win three points. It is a simple story. Artistic football without goals is not good."

Such polite candour will have been left at the entrance gates to Chelsea’s Cobham training facility Monday morning when the Blues manager set the agenda with his squad for the visit of the Swiss champions. Top of that list will be scoring, and the likelihood is Basel may find themselves on the receiving end of a backlash that could see their keeper Yann Sommer picking the ball out of his net on several occasions Wednesday night.

-Mourinho laments 'naive' display at Everton

By way of a curious coincidence, Basel were also the last overseas team to play a competitive fixture against the Blues at the Bridge, the sides having met in last season’s Europa League semifinals. Following a 2-1 win in Switzerland, and despite going a goal down in the second leg, Chelsea eventually eased through to the final with a 3-1 home victory (5-2 aggregate) courtesy of goals from Fernando Torres, Victor Moses and David Luiz. While the Blues went on to lift the trophy, defeating Benfica in the final, the RotBlau went some way to healing the pain of losing a Euro semi by winning the Swiss Super League for the fourth time in a row.

Basel coach Murat Yakin's key task this season is to win the title for an unprecedented fifth straight time. He strengthened his squad over the summer, bringing in Behrang Safari and Matias Delgado, who returned to the club, and Ivan Ivanov, who was signed from Partizan Belgrade. Delgado scored Basel’s winner last weekend in a keenly fought 1-0 Schweizer Pokal victory at Musingen and Chelsea’s defence will be well advised to keep an eye on the tigerish Argentine midfielder should he make Yakin’s starting 11.

While Basel need to be treated with respect -- especially given their group-stage form in their last Champions League campaign two years ago when they were unbeaten away from home, drawing at Manchester United and Benfica and winning at Oţelul -- this is essentially the same team that Chelsea rolled over four months ago.

Ordinarily, Mourinho might have been relaxed about his starting line-up for a game his squad players should breeze through. But given the result at Everton, Blues supporters can expect the Special One to send out a very strong starting 11 with Brazilian newcomer Willian, no stranger himself to scoring goals at Stamford Bridge, likely to be handed a full debut.

Under the bar, Mark Schwarzer is another player poised to make his first appearance in a competitive fixture for Chelsea, but that is as experimental as Jose is likely to get. In defence, Gary Cahill, benched at Everton, is set to be recalled, possibly at the expense of John Terry who may be rested for the upcoming Premier League derby with Fulham. Branislav Ivanovic may also be given the night off with Cesar Azpilicueta a capable deputy at right-back.

Midfielder Kevin De Bruyne is another player likely to feature from the start, as is the hugely influential Oscar, and it will be interesting to see how Mourinho shuffles his pack to accommodate them. Up front, the question mark remains. Samuel Eto’o? Torres? Demba Ba? Andre Schurrle with a license to roam? Whoever gets the nod, the world will be watching and an early goal will work wonders to settle the nerves and send critics scurrying away.

The form book favours Chelsea, with the Blues undefeated in Champions League group-stage matches at Stamford Bridge for almost 10 years, winning 22 and drawing seven.

Coincidentally, one of those draws, a tepid 1-1 affair with Rosenborg BK in 2007, also played Sept. 18, proved significant as it was Mourinho’s last game in charge in his first stint as Chelsea manager. This time around, as Jose renews his love affair with Europe’s elite club competition, there will be no quarter given. Expect more "artistic" football, but this time expect goals -- lots of them. Hell hath no fury like a Special One scorned.


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