Chelsea keen to wrap up UCL group with busy schedule approaching

Posted by Mark Worrall

Serena Taylor/Getty ImagesJohn Terry is due to lead out a strong Chelsea side in the Champions League.

Following the weekend's wilful destruction of a woeful West Ham United side at the Boleyn Ground, Chelsea face Swiss side FC Basel on Tuesday night at St Jakob Park in a Champions League Group E tie knowing that a draw will be enough to secure passage to the knockout stages of the competition. With two games remaining, the Blues head Group E with nine points, Schalke 04 are second with six points, then come Basel with five points and whipping boys Steaua Bucharest last on two points.

While there can be no room for complacency, with Chelsea's final Group E tie coming next month at Stamford Bridge against Steaua, Blues manager Jose Mourinho is expected to name a strong starting XI against Basel to ensure that the club qualifies for the last 16 as group winners, thereby avoiding any chance of playing the usual heavyweight suspects such as Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Real Madrid until the latter stages of the competition.

- Frank Lampard enjoying licence to roam

Basel -- as Mourinho and Chelsea learned to their embarrassment and expense in September, when the Swiss side's manager Murat Yakin masterminded an unlikely 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge on Champions League Matchday 1 -- will be no pushovers. Despite trailing 1-0 at half-time to an Oscar goal, Yakin's men had fought back strongly after the break with Mohamed Saleh and Marco Streller scoring the goals that sealed a shock victory, and with home advantage and the vociferous support of a partisan crowd, the Basel boss will be hoping to preside over another upset.

The portents, however, do not look good for FC Basel. Since that 2-1 reversal, Chelsea have won convincingly on the road against Steaua and Schalke as well as beating the German side at Stamford Bridge. A record of 10 goals scored and zero conceded tells its own story, and Jose Mourinho has sufficient talent at his disposal to ensure that this time around the RotBlau spring no surprises.

With the international break already a distant memory, the past weekend's match with West Ham marked the start of a punishing fixture schedule for Chelsea that will see the Blues play two games per week right through to New Year's Day, a period when the depth of talent within Jose Mourinho's squad will finally be recognised as a blessing rather than a curiosity as the Special One pursues his quest for silverware on three fronts.

Cognisant of the demands that will be made on his players in the coming weeks, Mourinho has been blunt about his team's main objective against Basel. "We are going to try to win and kill," he said, speaking ahead of the game at St Jakob Park. "We have so many matches in December that if we can have one less [referring to the final Group E game with Steaua, which would effectively become a dead rubber should Chelsea beat Basel] it would be a help. We are going to try to win. In the end if you get a point you qualify, you have a point, but we have to try to win the game there."

Chelsea barely broke a sweat when romping to a 3-0 victory over West Ham, and given Mourinho's comments about the importance of beating Basel, his starting XI for the game against the Swiss may herald fewer changes than might ordinarily be expected, particularly in defence, where Petr Cech, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic can expect to retain their places, while fit-again Ashley Cole, who made the bench against the Hammers, could be restored to the left-back berth in preference over Cesar Azpilicueta.

In midfield, with one eye on next weekend's Premier League game with Southampton, Mourinho may elect to rest Frank Lampard following the Blues veteran's heroic two-goal exertions at the Boleyn. Should he do so, John Obi Mikel will partner Ramires in the engine room with the creativity on the flanks likely to come from Willian and Andre Schurrle, with Eden Hazard also given a breather. Given the ongoing stellar performances of the prodigiously gifted Oscar in the coveted No. 10 role, and the fact the indefatigable Brazilian has more energy than a Duracell bunny, it's hard to see Juan Mata, a non-playing substitute at West Ham, getting a look in, but the Chelsea manager may opt to start with the Spaniard as playmaker and see how the game progresses before making any changes deemed necessary.

Up front, Fernando Torres will return to lead the line should he win his fitness battle against the adductor injury that has kept him out of the Blues side for their past three games. If Torres isn't ready yet, Samuel Eto'o will continue as Mourinho's lone striker. Eto'o looks to have finally become acclimatised to the pace of Chelsea's game and has already demonstrated in this competition that his poacher's eye for goal remains as focussed as it ever was.

All things being equal, it's hard to see anything beyond a Blues victory, and the last word on the matter for those harbouring doubts goes to Mourinho, who said: "It was not a good feeling to lose against them [Basel] at home -- so, no revenge, nothing, not at all, but to try to win against a team that beat us at Stamford Bridge I think is important." Don't be deceived by the platitudes; come kick-off time Mourinho will have drilled the meaning of the word "retribution" into his team. It will be swift; it will be decisive; it will see Chelsea qualify.


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