Following Chelsea’s disappointing 2-1 defeat to FC Basel at Stamford Bridge in their Champions League group stage opener on Wednesday evening, manager Jose Mourinho remains hopeful the Blues can still find 10 points from their remaining five fixtures.
The Portuguese boss spoke candidly, taking full responsibility for the team’s lacklustre performance in front of their home fans against a side they ought to have posed a greater threat to.
Basel recorded their first ever victory in England via their win over Chelsea but Mourinho asserted his hopes that the Europa League winners can qualify out of Group E as he does not want them to play in the Europa League this term.
The former Champions League winners circa 2011/12 still have 15 points up for grabs in their remaining clashes with Steaua Bucharest, Schalke and their return trip to Basel in November.
Whilst their start to life under Jose Mourinho in his second spell in charge at Stamford Bridge has been poor by their own impeccably high standards, the Blues still have ample time to make the changes and improvements necessary to qualify for the round of 16 in the New Year.
Their next fixture with Steau Bucharest on Tuesday 1st October will be tough, despite the fact that German outfit Schalke beat the Romanian champions 3-0 on Wednesday.
The Romanians are the underdogs of Group E and are ranked 55th in the UEFA club ranking. Mourinho and his Blues must not underestimate the threat they pose, especially at home at the 55,600 seater Arena Nationala, but this is the fixture the Blues will absolutely have to take all three points away from if they hope to hit Mourinho’s 10-point mark to escape the group.
They will then face Schalke on October 22nd away in Gelsenkirchen where the home side will undoubtedly make it hard work for Chelsea. On paper this is the toughest fixture of the five remaining and draw could be enough to see the Blues through but all three would obviously be preferable – if they lose at the Veltins Arena, they could struggle and would probably curtail their chances of topping the group which, at present is still conceivable.
They will then host the German at the Bridge and this is a game that will be influenced by the previous clash’s result – again Chelsea are going to need at the very least a draw and one would hope they could win the game at home, if possible, otherwise they’ll likely give Basel a dangerous sniff at qualifying ahead of them.
The return leg in Basel will be a game to prove a point, make amends and get some sweet revenge – Chelsea really must up the ante because this is a club that many of their English rivals have overcome and there’s no reason Chelsea can’t do the same.
Again the home crowd won’t be shy and the game won’t be a walk in the park but, nonetheless, Basel will probably be Chelsea’s rivals to qualify now, given Schalke’s win and their strength, depth and standing in European competitions.
If Mourinho can get his side three points in Bucharest, they should be on their way and you’d expect Schalke to beat Basel but, again, you can’t count your chickens – that would make it a three-way tussle with the German’s leading the race and Swiss side still with enough points to cause a scare.
A draw in Germany and a win at home to Schalke would put Chelsea in a strong position going into the Basel away game and if they can pick up at least a point there they would give themselves some breathing space come December 14th when they host Bucharest at Stamford Bridge and can be hopeful that Schalke can do their job against those tricky customers from Wednesday night.
All of the above could be completely null and void as soon as the next game draws to a close but Chelsea still have an excellent chance of qualification and even a fair chance of topping the group.
image: © Jason Bagley