Chelsea vs. FC Basel: Complete Champions League Preview
UEFA Champions League: Group E
Venue: Stamford Bridge
Kick-off: 7.45 p.m. (GMT), 2.45 p.m. (EST), 11.45 a.m. (PST)
Just four months ago this clash between Chelsea and FC Basel on Wednesday evening was a Europa League fixture.
Meeting in the semifinals last May, each team had somewhat different fortunes. The Blues were en route to lifting the trophy we once knew as the UEFA Cup, while Basel were not too far away from being crowned champions of Switzerland.
And now, here we are, back in Europe's premier cup competition, the Champions League, with Jose Mourinho ready to welcome Murat Yakin back to Stamford Bridge.
Despite the last meeting between these two clubs coming with a European final as the reward for the winner, it wasn't met quite with the same anticipation as their Group E opener.
But that's the lure of the Champions League and, given they crashed out in the group stages last term, Chelsea know the importance of claiming all three points to get their campaign off to the right start.
We're not yet into double figures in terms of matches this season, but not many people would have been predicting in early August that Chelsea's opening fixture in the Champions League would have a must-win feel about it.
But that's where we stand at the moment, with Jose Mourinho's side without victory in their previous three outings—drawing with Manchester United and Bayern Munich (who won the Super Cup on penalties) and losing 1-0 to Everton at the weekend.
It's far from a crisis, but in an age where managers and teams are often put firmly under the microscope after a few indifferent results, facing Basel at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday is a game Mourinho and his players cannot afford to lose—or draw for that matter.
Victory will set them on their way in the Champions League, restoring some confidence. But anything less than three points will see the sound of alarm bells begin chiming ever louder in West London.
Basel aren't exactly in a rich vein of form themselves, currently sitting third in the Swiss Super League.
Murat Yakin's side have endured a patchy start to the campaign, picking up just eight points from their last five matches.
Given the high standards they have set in recent years, their manager knows his team have a lot to do if they are to reach the level of performance that has seen them crowned champions in each of the past four years.
Visiting Stamford Bridge will be a daunting prospect, yet Basel are very much the underdog. With many not expecting much of the Swiss, the pressure will be significantly reduced. So could they be ready to pull off a major upset at the first time of asking?
All eyes will understandably be on Marco Streller when it comes to Basel's goal threat on Wednesday, but Chelsea's defenders will need to play close attention to Frenchman Giovanni Sio if he appears.
The 24-year-old arrived at St. Jakob-Park this summer from Wolfsburg and has wasted no time in getting his scoring boots on, scoring twice in his two league appearances.
He also found the back of the net in Basel's Champions League playoff against Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets—incidentally his debut for FCB.
He can play directly through the middle, although he has featured out wide for his new club.
On the other hand, Mohamed Salah—who scored against Chelsea in the Europa League—will be a threat from midfield.
Chelsea will meet far more prolific and probing attackers this season, but Sio will be sure to test the resolve of the Blues' back line, that's for sure.
As for Chelsea, Basel can list the danger men from any of Eden Hazard, Andre Schurrle, Oscar or David Luiz, even, after the Brazilian defender found the back of the net against them twice last season in the Europa League, including a dramatic free kick in the first leg of the semifinal.
What's vital is Chelsea find a repeat performance from their season opener against Hull City Tigers. They stormed Steve Bruce's men in the first half, but they haven't quite hit those heights since.
What They Are Saying
Jose Mourinho described his Chelsea squad as one containing "beautiful young eggs" ahead of his first game back in the Champions League with the Blues.
He was quoted on ChelseaFC.com as saying:
[My players are] eggs that need a mum, in this case a dad, to take care of them, to keep them warm during the winter, to bring the blanket and to work and improve them. One day they will arrive in the moment where the weather changes, the sun rises, you break the eggs and the eggs are ready to go to the top level.
[The Champions League is] important for the club, for everybody, it's important for a team of kids, not just kids but a team that for example will tomorrow start the match with four players under 22, and if you think as we think in the club, in the evolution of the players and the team, it's very important for them to play on the big stage, and the big stage is the Champions League.
Meanwhile, Basel coach Murat Yakin was quoted in the Daily Mail after his press conference, saying Chelsea are the favorites to top Group E:
Chelsea is the clear favourite [to win the group], but we'll see after the first two games and then we'll have a benchmark where we can judge and see where we'll stand.
How will this game end?
Demba Ba was Chelsea's elected player for media duties ahead of the Basel clash, suggesting he will be the Blues' starting striker at Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho also confirmed Frank Lampard and Oscar will start, while Wednesday's game could be a good opportunity to allow Marco van Ginkel a full debut and Cesar Azpilicueta some game time at right-back.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Luiz, Cole; van Ginkel, Lampard; Oscar, Schurrle, Hazard; Ba
FC Basel (4-2-3-1): Sommer; P Degen, Schar, Ivanov, Voser; Xhaka, Frei; Sio, Delgado, Salah; Streller
Prediction: Chelsea 3-0 FC Basel
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