European Football

Chelsea discover the problem with Basel 2

Chelsea Basle (450x253)Who writes Jose Mourinho’s scripts? Whoever it is must be the same guy that used to scribe for Eric Cantona. What is it about foreigners in the English game that allows them to talk absolute waffle and get away with it – whether it’s sardines, trawlers, eggs or omelettes, can you imagine Steve Bruce or Sam Allardyce coming up with such metaphors?

The financial world is getting to grips with a far-reaching regulation called Basle II and III. It’s aimed at making banks and other organizations more secure. Basel’s II goals were enough to suggest Mourinho’s UEFA Champions League future is far from safe.

Yes, the world is full of cliché and jargon and the likes of Mourinho do their best to add a little exotica to the mix, but it can backfire. So, using his pre-match game of “Jose scrabble” as a reference point, what happened to the eggs in the Stamford Bridge dressing room?

The way it is going for Mourinho, he may need to shop for some new eggs soon. Ignoring the “worst start in a decade” claims, because I don’t see many teams going to Old Trafford and getting better than a 0-0 draw, it’s starting to become clear that the current Chelsea squad is not a patch on the raw materials Mourinho had to work with in 2004. Forget the eggs, this is an embryonic team that still needs a hefty hen to do some incubation.

The evidence is there for all to see. All good teams have a top striker in prime condition. Chelsea have three – Torres, Ba and Eto’o – who are either just waving goodbye to their peak or really second-tier. Compare this scenario to the options United and City have and Chelsea are way behind. They have a plethora of skilful midfielders who can spray the ball around or walk the ball into the area, but nobody with muscle to win the ball and feed the performing ponies. And at the back, Cech has started to look less than 100% reliable and the best central defensive pairing isn’t really known. Mourinho needs to continue the rebuilding process started by AVB and Di Matteo, but the window of opportunity is currently closed.

Against Basel, Chelsea were poor against very average opposition. There was no urgency in their build-up play and Eto’o was constantly being forced wide, which blunted his powers. Basel’s defence lapped up everything quite comfortably and they were content to merely frustrate Chelsea rather than create anything themselves.

Mourinho’s teams in the past killed teams off and then prevented them from doing much about it. It wasn’t always entertaining, but it was super-effective. Fans will put up with most things if you are winning. His legacy (two titles, three cups) is why there’s a banner proclaiming Mourinho as “one of us” hanging over the side of the old Shed end at Stamford Bridge (who makes these banners?). At present, Chelsea are not able to wield the sword at the throat of the opposition, perhaps by design, perhaps because they don’t have the weapons. After a handful of games, and some carefully chosen words by one of us, Mourinho’s project is looking long-term – if the man with the stick allows it.

Chelsea’s fans, arguably, will permit their chosen one some time, however. Mourinho is smarter than the masses and knows how to win them over. The same leniency applies to the fans’ relationship with the triumvirate of Cech, JT and Lamps. People like Ivanovic (love the chant…), Luiz, Mata and Oscar will also struggle to do much wrong with the tribe that lurks in the murky corners of the Matthew Harding Stand. You sense that Eto’o will struggle in much the way that Torres and Ba have failed to build a relationship with the fans.

What they will not tolerate, though, is another group exit in the Champions League. But Mourinho won’t need to reminded by the supporters – Abramovich interrupted his cycling holiday in Croatia to watch this. He was probably putting his bike-clips on way before the end.

Getting back to the game itself, when Oscar put Chelsea ahead with the last kick of the first half – nice, typical Oscar finish –  it was out of keeping with a dire 45. Instead of capitalizing on that lead, Chelsea stuttered throughout, although Oscar struck the top of the crossbar with an out-of-nowhere effort. Basel grew in confidence and when they cleverly equalized through Mohammed Salah, who had tormented Ashley Cole all night,  it had been coming. “Us” went very quiet, the only sound that could be heard was the muffled cheers of the Basel fans and the [obviously] Swiss photographer next to me who chuckled away as he muttered in that curious Helvetian tone.

It got worse for Chelsea as Marco Streller twisted away from his markers to send a near-post header in off Cech from an acute angle to put Basel 2-1 ahead. At the final whistle, the Basel players’ cries of triumph said it all – one even claimed it was “a miracle”. But they have become accustomed to beating English clubs – ask Spurs and United.

Mourinho slipped away, one or two jeers in his ears and the Stamford Bridge crowd filed away with some disbelief. “No better than when Benitez was here,” was one comment I caught in the melee. “And Eto’o, I am sorry, just ‘aint good enough.” There, I told you. “Chelsea 1, Basel 2…I don’t believe it.” You had better believe it, mate……never mind Basel II….Basel III is just around the corner. But that would have been lost on matey from Wandsworth or wherever he was heading.

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