Chelsea labour to knockout stages despite Basel defeat

Posted by Phil Lythell

Jamie McDonald/Getty ImagesChelsea managed just one shot in their dismal Champions League defeat at Basel.

Chelsea slumped to a 1-0 defeat to FC Basel in a game where the Blues were never at the races. In a curious night of contrasts, the result had little impact on their Champions League fortunes, with qualification assured despite defeat.

- Match report: Basel 1-0 Chelsea

For the second time this season, they were second best to the Swiss side that played with a purpose and a precision that the visitors failed to exhibit at any point during the 90 minutes. There was no area in which you could say that Jose Mourinho's men gave their opposition a contest, let alone were superior. The lethargy that plagued the two recent Premier League matches against West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United returned with abundance as Chelsea failed to get out of first gear.

It was all the more surprising given the revelatory display Saturday at West Ham, where they played with verve and fluidity, ripping apart the Hammers at will. However, Chelsea were unable to muster the same enthusiasm, and for that the manager has to take his share of the blame. Other criticisms that could be directed at Mourinho include his failure to introduce Juan Mata from the substitutes' bench in a game where the Spaniard's composure and craft might have been able to organise the Chelsea attacks into a more discernible pattern.

The changes that Mourinho did make were positive, and the introduction of Fernando Torres and Eden Hazard certainly gave the Blues greater energy in attack, though even their best efforts were unable to lift their teammates from their slumber. None of the outfield players that kicked off the game will be able to look back on their performance with any pride since every single one of them were culpable of silly errors that served to put the team under further pressure. The only starter to be able to hold his head up high was Petr Cech, who showed tremendous reflexes to thwart Basel on several occasions until he was finally beaten in the closing minutes by Mohamed Salah.

The Egyptian has been the scourge of Chelsea, having scored three times against them this calendar year, and he exploited Branislav Ivanovic's criminal loss of concentration to give Basel a deserved win. The goal epitomised Chelsea's lacklustre approach: a simple angled ball from deep catching the Serbian on his heels and allowing the hugely impressive Salah to race unopposed into the penalty area.

If the goal highlighted the Londoners' deficiencies in defence, a quite extraordinary statistic exposed their impotence at the other end of the pitch. The Blues officially had just one shot on goal despite having Oscar, Willian, Torres, Hazard, Samuel Eto'o and Frank Lampard all on the field at different stages, and even that attempt was off target. It is the kind of statistic that wouldn't be acceptable against Pep Guardiola's Barcelona in their pomp, so for that to happen against a relatively humble Basel side is scandalous. It is hard to explain given the array of talent at Mourinho's disposal, and it would be very surprising if this was anything other than an aberration.

That is not to do a disservice to the Swiss, who were excellent all evening and had the two outstanding performers on the pitch in Salah and Valentin Stocker. The duo opened up the Blues' defence a multitude of times -- in the first half especially -- and must have been bemoaning a lack of cutting edge and the intervention of Cech as their efforts continually went unrewarded.

Ultimately, though, football is about results, and while the score line was not what Chelsea wanted, at least they can take comfort in the fact that they have inadvertently qualified for the Champions League knockout stage thanks to Schalke's scoreless draw at Steaua Bucharest. It is a step forward from last season, and the ignominy of the UEFA Europa League has been avoided, however enjoyable that balmy May night in Amsterdam may have been.

Worryingly, though, Chelsea appear to be adopting the infuriating habit of inconsistency as every positive performance of late is being followed by a substandard one That formula should hopefully precipitate a more cohesive display against Southampton on Sunday, though they will have to raise their game significantly against a well-drilled Saints side that have caused more than a few surprises against supposedly superior opponents this season.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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