It is a better Chelsea that will face Basel on Tuesday evening than the one that lost to the Swiss champions back in September declared Jose Mourinho on the eve of the game.
The Blues can achieve the twin goals of qualification and top spot in our Champions League group with victory near the banks of the Rhine, having put the 2-1 defeat in the opening game firmly behind us with three straight wins in European competition. A draw is enough for the first of those objectives and confidence is further raised by a good performance and result against West Ham on Saturday.
Although David Luiz, who had a memorable game when we played and won in Basel in the Europa League last spring, doesn’t return to St Jakob-Park due to a knee injury, Fernando Torres increases the attacking options for a game Mourinho is determined to win.
‘Torres is ready,’ the manager reported.
‘He was almost ready to play against West Ham but we decided not to take a risk because we have nine matches in December and to lose a player now is not good. So we protected him, gave him three extra days and he trained completely with no limitations yesterday and today.
‘This is a period I like, where the squad can play a role, not just the team,’ noted Mourinho as he considered the crowded calendar leading up to the new year.
‘It is a period where only the brave can survive because it is hard, with the Christmas period where the accumulation of matches is so high. You don’t do it as a normal team, you do it as a special group with a special mentality. I missed it when I was in Italy and Spain.
‘We have nine matches in December and one is the match against Steaua so instead of nine matches, if we can finish the job tomorrow it will be eight competitive matches and that is our motivation.
‘I keep repeating to the players that it is the moment when everybody has a chance to feel important and everybody has the chance to show what they can do, even the people that don’t play a lot. It is a big chance for all of them so I try to make them mentally ready.’
One of the players likely to be given action in the coming weeks is Juan Mata who Mourinho emphasised has been unfortunate to miss out.
‘I can’t start matches with 12, 13 or 14 players which I would love to do because many people deserve to play and Juan is one of them, with the way he works, the way he behaves and the way we see him every day. But if I played him people would be asking me about not playing Hazard or Oscar and for these three positions behind the striker we have so many options.
‘Against West Ham I left out Mata who is an international for Spain, I left out Schurrle who is an international for Germany, De Bruyne who was probably the best Belgian player in the qualification group. I left out Willian who has just played for Brazil the last two matches, so it is a good problem for me but it is hard for them and it is hard for me because I don’t have pleasure when I leave them out. ‘
Mourinho said Basel won in London for the simple reason they were the better team on the night but pointed out that since that opening group game, Chelsea have done our job better which is why we are able to seal our Champions League fate tomorrow and they cannot.
‘If somebody has to feel the pressure tomorrow it is not us. Even if they win tomorrow Basel still have to play a last “final” at Schalke.
‘It is the first time I’ve played here but I have watched matches on TV and video and the crowd is very supportive and push their team a lot, but I think this Chelsea is better than the one that played at Stamford Bridge and hopefully we can continue the good run we have in the Champions League and finish the job tomorrow.’
Away from football, Mourinho was asked about his hair which was shaved last week despite the onset of winter, with temperatures in Basel hovering around zero.
‘Some people cannot do what I did because in a couple of months I have hair again! I asked Fernando [Torres] to give me his machine so I did it myself in front of the mirror.
‘I sent a picture to my wife before I arrived at home to see if I could go in, and yes, no problem!’