More disappointment for Chelsea after defeat to plucky Basel

Posted by Mark Worrall

Having been drawn into what looked like the easiest of all the Champions League groups, Chelsea saw their 2013-14 campaign get off to a hellish start Wednesday evening at Stamford Bridge as they tamely surrendered a 1-0 lead, eventually losing 2-1 to Swiss champions Basel -- a team the Blues had previously mastered 5-2 on aggregate in the semifinal of last season's Europa League competition.

- Match report: Chelsea 1-2 Basel
- Delaney: Chelsea issues exposed in Basel loss

In the buildup to tonight's game, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho had described his players as "beautiful young eggs." At the final whistle, the Portuguese was left with nothing but an expensive omelette as his team cracked under pressure after Basel had the temerity to equalise Oscar's excellent late first-half opener. Mohamed Salah's 71st-minute leveller, a brilliant curled shot that flew past Petr Cech into the Chelsea goal, served to further galvanise the Swiss side who had displayed a far greater sense of purpose than their hosts throughout the second half.

When the winner came, it was no surprise it was the visitors who scored -- striker Marco Streller heading in at the near post with less than 10 minutes left. Chelsea huffed and puffed, but their disjointed endeavours lacked cohesion, and at the final whistle a bewildered home crowd, who'd arrived at the Bridge expecting an easy victory, left scratching their heads, puzzled by the Blues' desperate lack of form.

With one eye on Saturday's west London derby with Fulham, but cognisant of the need to improve on the disappointment of last weekend's defeat at Goodison Park when the Blues squandered chance after chance to ripple the Everton net, Mourinho's starting lineup for tonight's match bristled with attacking intent ... on paper ... but once more Chelsea flattered to deceive.

As expected, John Terry was rested with Gary Cahill taking his place in an otherwise unchanged defence. Mourinho shuffled his expensive midfield pack, starting with Frank Lampard, Oscar, Eden Hazard, handing a debut to Willian and maybe surprisingly opting for Marco van Ginkel, meaning the only room left for Juan Mata and Kevin De Bruyne was on the bench as Samuel Eto'o's services were retained up front.

In the first half Chelsea muscularly dominated possession with Oscar running the show, the youngster looking every inch a classic No. 10 as he controlled the game from midfield. But for all their purpose, and despite forcing a succession of corners, the Blues failed to seriously threaten the Basel goal right up until the stroke of halftime, when keeper Yann Sommer was beaten by Oscar's first-time shot -- the Brazilian latching onto a slide-rule Lampard pass to give the home side a deserved lead.

As the teams emerged for the second half, Chelsea supporters took to their seats still purring about Oscar's sublime skills, and they cheered loudly as the gifted playmaker almost doubled the Blues' advantage shortly after the restart when his wicked shot struck the Basel crossbar -- but unknown to them at the time, that was as close as their team was going to get to scoring another goal. The visitors took heart from that let-off and began to take the game to Chelsea, who inexplicably allowed them freedom on the ball. On 67 minutes, Mourinho replaced the ineffective Willian for crowd favourite Mata, but the switch yielded little and within minutes the Swiss side forced an equaliser which had, in truth, been coming as the visitors, always lively on the counterattack, levelled the match through Salah.

If the introduction of John Obi Mikel for van Ginkel was not unexpected, Lampard being replaced by Demba Ba was a pure gamble on the part of Mourinho, a futile punt that audibly drew the home crowd's displeasure. The winner, when it came, was an embarrassment. Not for Basel, who scored it and who'd hustled and harried for the corner from whence it came, but for the Chelsea defence, who went missing at the near post, allowing Streller to steal in and power a header past Cech.

With the clock ticking down the Blues desperately went in search of an equaliser, Eto'o coming closest in the last minute, but his shot was comfortably saved by Sommer. At the final whistle, the Basel players and their travelling fans celebrated a famous victory while Blues fans shook their heads and watched as Mourinho scurried down the tunnel. At his first coming, Mourinho was a "Special One," at his second, a "Happy One." Right now he must be feeling anything but "Special" or "Happy." There is much work to be done between now and Saturday, when noisy neighbours Fulham make the short journey across SW6 to Stamford Bridge. Having witnessed Wednesday's capitulation, the Cottagers will fancy their chances and Chelsea swiftly need to take a long hard look at their recent shortcomings if they are to regain the shot-in-the-arm momentum and optimism that came with Mourinho's reappointment.


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