Champions League: Tired Chelsea sleepwalk way into knockout stage

FC BASEL 1 vs CHELSEA 0

CHELSEA manager Jose Mourinho shouldered the blame for his team’s laboured performance at St Jakob-Park last night, but the other result in Group E ensured they limped through to the last 16 of the Champions League.

The Blues made a single change to the starting line-up from the team that beat West Ham 3-0 on Saturday, with Willian replacing Eden Hazard.

But Mourinho admitted Chelsea looked tired throughout, as they failed to register a single attempt on target and paid the price when Mohamed Salah hit the winner three minutes from time.

Chelsea’s second defeat in the group stage to the Swiss champions was not as costly as it might have been however, with a goalless draw in Bucharest between Steaua and Schalke enough to ensure the Blues cannot finish lower than second in Group E.

But Mourinho was still frustrated with himself for his team selection.

“The players were tired, there was no reaction, they made wrong decisions,” he said. “They paid the price of the internationals; 15 days, they arrive back, the match that follows is against West Ham.

“So I’m not sad with them because I understand the team was not fresh. Maybe I should have made more changes, but when you play so well against West Ham you have the temptation to play the same team.

“Maybe I should change other players and we would get a better result than this. Everything I didn’t like. From the first minute we made a mistake. The team only had stability and control in the second half.

“They did nine points in previous matches so we qualify, but that is the minimum we could do. Now we have to fight for first position.”

Chelsea received an early warning of what was to come when goalkeeper Petr Cech, making his 450th appearance for the west Londoners, was forced to parry away Taulant Xhaka’s inswinging free-kick on two minutes.

Cech then defied Fabian Frei and palmed two stinging efforts from Salah over the crossbar before the half hour. Striker Marco Streller, Chelsea’s tormentor in their 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge in September, poked a Salah cross wide of the near post from six yards.

And the visitors’ woes then deepened shortly before half-time when striker Samuel Eto’o overstretched after losing possession and was forced off with a groin injury.

The Blues were able to contain Basel better in the second half, but Valentin Stocker saw a header caught by Cech from Fabian Schar’s free-kick.

Ramires shot wide twice for Chelsea from outside of the box on rare forays forwards. But the home side deservedly bagged the winner on 87 minutes when Salah latched on to Schar’s diagonal pass, burst down the left flank and fired past Cech at his near post.