Chelsea qualified for the Champions League knockout stages last night despite a limp performance as they were beaten by Basle for a second time in Group E.
Mohamed Salah’s fine goal three minutes from time earned Basle a deserved 1-0 victory at St Jakob Park and completed a double over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, who had travelled to Switzerland needing just a point to advance and a win to claim top spot in the pool.
However, Schalke’s 0-0 draw at Steaua Bucharest means the Blues advance to the last 16 ahead of the December 11 meeting at home to the Romanians.
The Blues last season suffered the ignominy of becoming the first winners to exit the tournament at the group stage in defence of their title, before responding by beating Basle in the semi-finals enroute to winning the Europa League.
This season, in the premier tournament, Basle have exacted a semblance of revenge.
Murat Yakin’s side were out to prove their win at Stamford Bridge was not a one-off as the Swiss sought a place in the knockout stages, or at least the Europa League.
Mourinho promised a different Chelsea to the one which lost in the opening group game, but saw his side outplayed.
The visitors survived calls for a penalty when the ball hit Frank Lampard on the arm after 17 minutes and Petr Cech made a series of saves to keep the Blues level, the best repelling a deflected Salah shot when the goalkeeper had already started his dive.
Fernando Torres, fit again after missing three games with an adductor injury, replaced Samuel Eto’o after 42 minutes when the Cameroon striker was taken off on a stretcher after falling awkwardly and Eden Hazard followed him into the fray 10 minutes into the second half.
But neither could improve Chelsea’s fortunes and Salah’s strike settled matters in Basle’s favour and left Mourinho and his men frustrated, beaten and with work to do.
Mourinho, though, refused to blame his players for a “bad performance”.
Mourinho instead cited tiredness amongst his players for the defeat and admitted he should have made more than the one change he opted for from the side that won 3-0 at West Ham on Saturday.
“I felt they were tired,” Mourinho said.
“I think after West Ham maybe they paid the price.
“The players were tired. I’m not so sad with them. I understand.
“Maybe I should make more changes with my team. When you have that performance against West Ham you have the temptation to play the same team.
“I made one change with Eden because I felt he could come on and change the game. Maybe I should change other players.”
A goalless draw between Steaua Bucharest and Schalke meant the Blues still went through, which Mourinho conceded was the only positive from the night.
“It was a bad performance,” he said.
“Only because of other results we have qualified. That’s the only positive thing from this night.”
Asked what went wrong Mourinho added: “Everything. I didn’t like it from the first minutes when immediately we made a defensive mistake.
“We should get a better result than this. I just want to prepare for the weekend.
“I don’t want to blame the players.”
FC BASLE: Sommer, Voser, Xhaka (Ajeti 71), Elneny, Schär,
Ivanov, Salah, Serey Die, Streller (Sio 78), Frei, Stocker (Sauro 90).
CHELSEA: Cech, Ivanovic, Azpilicueta, Mikel, Cahill, Terry, Ramires , Lampard, Eto’o (Torres 42), Oscar (Hazard 55), Willian (De Bruyne 86).
Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (France)
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved