José Mourinho’s Champions League return with Chelsea was relegated to an afterthought, given Napoli was hosting one of last year’s finalists (Borussia Dortmund), Gerardo Martino was making his competition debut with Barcelona, and the Arsenal Özils were visiting the newly-covered Velodrome in Marseille. Basel, however, made us rue our inattention. The Swiss champions sprung the competition’s first major upset, using two late goals to take a 2-1 win out of Stamford Bridge.
The result could have major, long-term implications on Group G, which also contains Schalke (3-0 home winners on Wednesday) at Steaua Bucharest. The short-term implications, however, will cast major doubt on a Chelsea team who, while still talented enough to make this look like blip, have now suffered one of their more notable losses in the Roman Abramovich era.
The game started slowly, with neither team registering a shot until well into the first half. While the teams would go into intermission even, Chelsea had come to dictate the game by the time the halftime whistle blew. That they scored through Oscar moments into the second half was only a mild surprise.
Chelsea would go on to exert a mild control on the next 20 minutes, keeping Basel without a shot until Marco Steller setup Mohamed Salah coming in from the right. The winger’s left-footed curler beat Petr Cech for a surprise equalizer, making it 1-1 after 70 minutes.
That could have served as a wake up call, giving the heavy favorites 20 minutes to claim full points. But Chelsea didn’t generate another chance before Streller had gotten onto the scoresheet himself, heading home an 81st minute corner to give Basel an improbable win.
Murat Yakin’s side have been in Champions League enough for people to know their quality. Two years ago, they bested Manchester United to get out of group play, sending the Red Devils to Europe League. Last year, they made that tournament’s final four.
Chelsea themselves should be familiar with them, having faced them en route to last year’s Europa League title, but evidently, the threat never set in. Even with Willian and Marco van Ginkel getting their first starts, the team should have had enough to pull through.
Instead, Chelsea find themselves third in group play after one round, only Romanian champions Steaua Bucharest keeping them from the cellar. Because they’ll be favored in the rest of their group matches, this result shouldn’t cause panic. Rather, it should be a reminder: Objects in mirror are more dangerous than they appear.
For Basel, however, these are huge points – a result that’s potentially bad news for Schalke. The Germans were expected to compete with the Swiss champions for second in this group, and with a 3-0 win at home, they showed themselves capable. But Basel just took full points where Schalke are likely to get none, while Jens Keller’s team merely held serve. Somewhere, the Miners may have to make up that ground.