For the second time in this group stage, Basel were deserved winners over Chelsea but Schalke’s 0-0 draw away in Romania puts us through to the Champions League knockout stages.
The Blues came looking for the win that would guarantee top spot but that rarely looked on the cards. On a night when Samuel Eto’o was carried off on a stretcher, our attacking play did not record a shot on target, whereas in the first-half the enduring excellence of Petr Cech kept the home side at bay.
The second-half display by Chelsea was more solid but with their one genuine opening after the break, Basel scored late in the game through Mohamed Salah. There was no way back and we now need a win at Stamford Bridge against Steaua if we are to go into the last 16 draw as group stage winners.
Jose Mourinho made just one change to the starting line up from the weekend win over West Ham, Willian coming in and Eden Hazard making way and he retained the 4-3-3 shape so successful at Upton Park
He was also able to use Fernando Torres for the first time in four games, the Spaniard starting on the bench but seeing action before the interval.
John Terry, in making his 592nd Chelsea appearance, drew level with John Hollins as the club’s fourth-highest appearance maker of all time.
Hopes that the altered team shape that proved so successful in the last Premier League outing would dominate in a similar way didn’t materialise on a freezing night on the banks of the upper Rhine.
The pattern for the opening period was set very early on when Valentin Stocker crossed menacingly having found space on the left. Marco Streller, the Basel centre-forward and captain, made no contact at the near post. Then Stocker was fouled out wide and Xhaka’s free-kick was flighted past the white shirts in the area but not past Cech, who pushed the low ball away.
The pick of the defending in the first 10 minutes though, as the home side enjoyed all the pressure, came from Gary Cahill who was well-placed to slide another low cross behind as it reached the six-yard box, Basel this time having worked an over-lap on the right.
Cech then scrambled a shot behind from Fabian Frei. It was not his most convincing save. From the corner, centre-back Ivan Ivanov made slight contact with his outstretched leg and Mikel, playing his 50th Champions League game, was required to clear off the line.
At last, 15 minutes in, Chelsea made an opening with the right boot of Ivanovic drilling over a cross that the out-stretched one of Eto’o couldn’t quite reach. The Cameroonian’s run had almost been the perfect one.
Basel went straight back down the other end and Salah’s shot was tipped over by Cech. That was one of his better saves. As the pressure stayed on, Basel players and fans shouted loudly for a penalty when the ball bounced up off the turf and onto the side, then the arm of Lampard; nothing given by referee Lannoy from France.
Chelsea were not keeping the ball well enough to take any sort of grip on the game. When it fell to Mohamed Salah 10 yards out, he was again denied by the Chelsea keeper who was playing his 450th game for the club. This time it was one of his best saves.
Chelsea steadied the boat with some more careful possession around the half-hour. Cech came out of his area to clear a Basel attack upfield and it turned into one of our best passes of the game so far. Yann Sommer in the Basel goal came to claim just in front of the head of Eto’o when Willian floated a cross in.
Azpilicueta recovered well from an initial misjudgement to slide-tackle Salah inside the area when the winger would otherwise have truly tested Cech, before Xhaka became the game’s first player booked for chopping Ivanovic on halfway.
On 39 minutes came a blow for the visitors from London. Eto’o, having gone for a ball behind the defence, twisted his leg slightly as he deccelerated and hit the turf, instantly asking to be replaced before being carried off. It didn’t look good. Torres came on.
The first 10 minutes were relatively uneventful, but that at least signalled Chelsea were getting to grips with the Swiss advances better than before. Mourinho though wanted more from his team going forward and he introduced Eden Hazard with a significant part of the game still to play. Oscar made way.
The Belgian exchanged passes brightly with Torres early in his contribution, but then wasn’t accurate with a ball to Ramires and a shooting chance evaporated.
Serey Die felled Hazard out wide at the cost of a card, and Lampard’s low free-kick briefly threatened to worm a way through but was cleared. Mikel followed into the book soon after for catching Elneny.
As the game entered its final quarter, Chelsea began to find areas of space to operate within inside the Basel half. Were the home side, who badly needed the win, tiring?
Ramires was booked for tripping Serey Die off the ball as Chelsea attacked; it looked an accidental contact.
Twice it needed some scrambled defending to keep Chelsea at bay as the game entered the final 10 minutes but then Serey Die struck a shot just past the post with Cech fully extended. That was the first time the Swiss champions had gone close since the interval.
Chelsea’s underdoing was a straight-forward long ball from the back. Salah had managed to escape any marking down the left and finally he got the better of Cech, lifting the ball over the exposed keeper. There were 86 minutes played.
The half had been an even one but given the balance of the first period, Chelsea could have few complaints about the final result. It will need a better performance against Steaua at the Bridge in two weeks’ time for top spot to be taken with comfort.
Chelsea (4-3-3):Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Ramires, Mikel, Lampard; Willian (De Bruyne 86), Eto’o (Torres 41), Oscar (Hazard 55).
Unused subs Schwarzer, Cole, Schurrle, Mata.
Booked Mikel 64, Ramires 76.
Basel (4-1-4-1):Sommer; Voser, Schar, Ivanov, Xhaka (Ajeti 70); Serey Die; Salah, Elneny, Frei. Stocker (Sauro 90+2); Streller (c) (Sio 77).
Unused subs Vailati, P Degen, D Degen, Delgado.
Scorer Salah 86.
Booked Xhaka 36, Serey Die 62.
Referee Stephane Lannoy from France.