Mohamed Salah’s late heroics helped Basel to a much-deserved 1-0 win over UEFA Champions League Group Stage rival Chelsea on Tuesday and took the Swiss giants to third in the bracket, just a single point behind the Blues.
Chelsea, who failed to place a single shot on target over the 90 minutes at St. Jakob-Park, could have sealed progression to the Round of 16 with a draw, but in defeat, their hopes of going into the pot for the next round will come down to next month’s home match against Steaua Bucharest:
Basel were the brighter side from the get-go on their own patch and quite nearly took the lead after only three minutes when Taulant Xhaka’s free-kick from just outside the area fell dangerously in front of goal before being cleared.
Salah, as well, didn’t take long to impose himself on the Chelsea backline and proved a handful for both Willian and Cesar Azpilicueta throughout the evening. In the 17th minute—barely two minutes after Samuel Eto’o failed to latch onto a Branislav Ivanovic cross following a rare bit of buildup for the guests—the Egyptian forced Petr Cech into a spectacular stop with a shot from distance, and while the resulting corner appeared to strike Frank Lampard in the hand, no penalty was given.
Salah would get at least one more quality chance before the halftime whistle, and with three minutes remaining in the opening period, Chelsea were compelled to make their first substitution when Eto’o had to be withdrawn with what appeared to be a groin injury:
With Fernando Torres leading the line for the Blues after the restart, and with Eden Hazard introduced in the 55th minute, the London side looked rather more promising through much of the second half than they did in the first.
Ramires, in particular, came ever so close to snatching a late winner when he found himself in excellent space after receiving the ball from Hazard, but after taking too long to decide whether to pass or shoot, he was tackled by Arlind Ajeti, and Basel scampered downfield on the counter.
Then, with just three minutes remaining in normal time, the hosts finally found their opening.
Fabian Schar, who was exceptional on the night, sprung Salah with a long pass downfield, and the 21-year-old managed to shake off Ivanovic before slipping the ball past Cech at the far post.
Key Player Grades
Mohamed Salah: A+
He was by far the most consistently dangerous attacker on the pitch and could well have scored a hat-trick on Tuesday. In addition to his goal, he also committed himself on the defensive side of the ball, rendering Willian next to useless throughout the first half and much of the second.
Fabian Schar: A
One of Europe’s more underrated, up-and-coming defenders, the 21-year-old put in a Man-of-the-Match-calibre performance against Chelsea, both keeping things clean in front of goalkeeper Yann Sommer and picking out Salah with a game-changing ball that ended up keeping his side alive in the competition.
|Basel Player Grades|
It was an unusually subdued performance from the Brazilian, who has so often played such wonderful football in the Champions League. But on Tuesday, his contribution was limited to just 26 touches of the ball; he failed to take a single shot on goal and passed at an accuracy of only 61 percent. (Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.)
|Chelsea Player Grades|
Basel are now second in Group E with eight points and will wind up their schedule on December 11 away vs. Schalke. Chelsea will play the same night at home vs. Steaua Bucharest. Given Steaua's 0-0 draw against Schalke on Tuesday, the Blues have qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League but require a win on Matchday 6 to ensure first place in the bracket.