Chelsea issues exposed in Basel loss

Posted by Miguel Delaney

LONDON -- This time, Jose Mourinho couldn't quite laugh it off, and he certainly wasn't happy or smiling.

On the eve of this disconcerting 2-1 defeat to Basel, amid all manner of jokes about eggs, the Portuguese dismissed questions about Chelsea's worst Premier League start in a decade by scolding a reporter for asking about it twice. While that can still justifiably be written off as no more than a statistical quirk, it suddenly looks a lot worse alongside a first Champions League group-stage defeat at home in a decade, and the first time Chelsea have ever lost the opening match of a continental campaign -- not to mention the fact that this represented a second successive reverse.

- Worrall: More disappointment for Chelsea
- Report: Chelsea 1-2 Basel

All the energy and excitement of the opening-weekend victory against Hull City had evaporated. Because, even starker than all those stats is the fact that there was a worrying vulnerability about Chelsea that you would not have associated with Mourinho teams of the past.

Basel sensed it, went for it and ended up completely changing the dynamics of this group. A slightly snippy Mourinho conceded all of that and admitted that he has "work" to do. That is undeniably the case. While it is obviously still too early to read too much into such results and it would be foolish to bet against Mourinho's capacity to solve any problems, those issues are there.

Instead of a grandiose and glamorous return to the only competition that eluded the Portuguese at Chelsea, but has most defined his career, this had the sense of a more mundane occasion in which everyday problems were exposed. If it was not quite a reality check, some opinions were realigned.

Right from the start, for all Mourinho's talk about Chelsea's eventful history in this competition, there was a disconcerting flatness about their play. Chelsea controlled and prodded but never purred.

"In the first half, we had a big percentage of the ball, in a short period, corner after corner, but we didn't create," Mourinho admitted. "[Basel] were very compact, they try to close everything. They are normally an attacking, but they were not tonight."

Ultimately, with Chelsea struggling to click in any meaningful way and Samuel Eto'o and Willian worryingly off the pace, it was up to the individual ability of one of last season's additions to add urgency.

On the stroke of halftime, Oscar slid the ball into the corner for a goal. That did lift Chelsea, in the same manner the Brazilian also lifted a supreme effort onto the bar in the 55th minute at the peak of a fine spell. In truth, they probably should have settled the game around that period as Eden Hazard blazed over and Branislav Ivanovic had a header just deflected away.

Then, the fundamental issues with this team at present were revealed.

Despite Basel being put under pressure and suffering from what Mourinho described as the home side's "best period," Basel equalised with the type of exhilarating exchange you would have expected from Chelsea's array of attacking midfielders.

On 70 minutes Behrang Safari played a penetrating ball into the box from deep, Matias Delgado touched it back for Marco Streller, who then fed it for Mohamed Salah to sweep into the corner.

It was a devastatingly quick move of the type often seen from both Basel and Mourinho's Real Madrid over the past few seasons, but one that his Chelsea have only really reproduced for isolated spells against Hull and Aston Villa so far. The late introduction of Juan Mata was pointed.

Worse, Chelsea lacked the athleticism or power to win the ball back in the manner of his 2004-07 teams. Most damningly of all, they then lost the game via a set piece, as Streller got in front of Gary Cahill to head home. Needless to say, it would not have happened in a defence led by Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry at their peaks.

As much as Mourinho tried to spare his players from criticism by insisting they "lost as a team" and that he is "responsible," he couldn't hide his unhappiness with that.

"The second goal was very difficult to accept because we work on set-piece situations and the header was in a situation where we have two men in the zone and one man marking. So three players make a mistake and you are punished because of that."

Mourinho, however, argued that the possible cause for this was deeper than anything to do with laxness or quality.

"I think the team is probably not the team with such a maturity and such a personality to face the difficult moments of the game. Against Everton, we played amazing, they scored two minutes after halftime and you could feel the struggle a little in spite of dominating the game. Today the same.

"The team started with responsibility and when the first negative moment arrives, which is the equaliser, the team shakes a little bit."

That was perhaps further revealed in the way, as Mourinho argued, there "was a contradiction between the tendency of the game and the moments when things happen." Again, it wouldn't have happened under his previous side, who generally seized opportunities with suffocating strength.

Of course, there can be little disputing that a lot of this is a mind game from Mourinho, a way to twist perceptions to his advantage. The average age of the team that started against Basel was 28, after all, and many of them were Champions League winners.

Yet, if the squad are not as green as he maintains, there are gaps in it -- most notably up front. Not for the first time, you could see why he wanted a world-class forward notionally in his prime like Wayne Rooney. Eto'o is no longer that, and it became more and more apparent as the game went on. In stoppage time, the Cameroonian had a chance to equalise with an opening not unlike that in the 2006 Champions League final for Barcelona. Whereas he slipped the ball into the Arsenal corner netting that night in Paris, he could only fire it high and into the keeper's hands here.

Mourinho again insisted he is "happy" with his three strikers for the rest of the season, but agreed that Eto'o is not at his best.

"This is something that doesn't surprise. Because when you are two years somewhere that doesn't motivate you, out of the big stage, maybe you are not here for the right reasons, you lose the hunger, the appetite. Now, he has the hunger and the appetite, he wants to play. He is participating a lot in the collective game. The sharpness, the click to score, maybe you are right, but he is a great player and he will score goals.

"The happy moment will arrive."

This was certainly not one of them for Chelsea. Instead, it is a moment Mourinho is not that accustomed to: a bad start, two defeats in a row, the discernible lack of a reaction.

You would not bet against him solving the issues, but it has now all become a little serious.


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