Late Mohamed Salah goal gives Basel second straight win over Chelsea

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Just when you thought Chelsea might be getting their act together, they play one of their worst games of the season. Tuesday in UEFA Champions League, Blues went 90 minutes without putting a shot on target, all the while relying on Petr Cech to keep them in their game in Switzerland. But despite six saves on the night, Cech couldn’t stop the shot that sent the Blues to their second loss to Basel this season, Mohamed Salah’s chip over the Chelsea keeper and into the right side netting giving the Swiss champions a 1-0 upset at St. Jakob Park.

FCB probably deserved more, generating their first chance in the third minute and sustaining  pressure throughout the first half. At intermission, Chelsea had yet to put a shot toward goal, with Basel holding 58 percent of the ball while launching nine shots.

Cech, however, kept Chelsea close, coming up big on chances from Taulant Xhaka, Fabian Frei and Salah as Basel forced four saves from him in the opening 24 minutes. Ineffectual though midfield and unable to come up with stops in the final third, the Blues seemed destined to concede an early goal. By the half hour mark, however, Chelsea had weathered the storm, eventually carrying a 0-0 scoreline into halftime.

The second half started better for the visitors, particularly after Eden Hazard was brought on for Oscar in the 55th minute. From there, Chelsea briefly threatened Basel, eventually settling into a tempo that allowed them to control more of the ball. As the second half wore on, it seemed José Mourinho’s team had enough to bleed out a scoreless draw.

In the 87th minute, however, all of Chelsea’s persistence was rendered meaningless when a long ball from central defender Fabian Schär found Salah bursting past right back Branislav Ivanovic. A controlled touch off his right thigh saw the Egyptian attacker push the ball in front of him and into the penalty area. As Cech came for a ball approaching his six-yard box, Salah lifted his shot over the Chelsea keeper and into the far side netting, his second touch on Schär’s round one offering giving Basel their second victory of the tournament over Chelsea.

A one-goal game decided by a late winner may seem superficially close, but Chelsea were decidedly second best all day, a status the key numbers accurately reflect. The 15-2 edge Basel held in shots described the difference between the teams, with only a stretch of play in the second half giving the teams the appearance of equal footing. Basel finished with seven shots on target while their goalkeeper wasn’t tested once.

source: AP
After seeing his team conceded in the 87th minute, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho brought both of his hands to the side of his head as if to make a pillow, signaling that his defense had fallen asleep on Basel’s game-winning goal. (Photo: AP Photo.)

The poor result, however, is unlikely to hurt Chelsea. Thanks to Schalke’s surprise draw at Steaua Bucharest, the Blues clinched a place in the knockout round. At nine points, Chelsea still lead Group E, ensuring they’ll earn the packet’s top spot with a win on Dec. 11 against the Romanians at Stamford Bridge. Even if they draw with Steaua, Chelsea can win their group if Schalke knock off Basel.

With the damage from today’s embarrassment limited, inconsistency should be more worrying than Chelsea’s bottom line. Coming off a 3-0 win this weekend against West Ham, the Blues gave every reason to believe they’d extend their Champions League winning streak to four, clinch their group, and give themselves the luxury of fielding kids and reserves two weeks from now. Instead, the team suffers another Newcastle-esque dip, lucky to get out of Switzerland with just a one-goal loss.

Much like the situation with Manchester United, new leadership help explains the inconsistent results, but after performances like today’s, you wonder if the team limitations the appeared under André Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, and Rafa Benítez are again surfacing. Is the ceiling for this team much lower than their prodigious talent makes us believe?

It’s too early to answer that question, either positively or negatively. Another Basel loss, however, gives us more food for thought.

Goals

Basel: 87′ Mohamed Salah

Lineups

Basel: Yann Sommer; Kay Voser; Fabian Schar, Ivan Ivanov, Taulant Xhaka (71′ Arlind Ajeti); Mohamed Salah, Mohamed Elneny, Fabian Frei, Geoffrey Serey Die, Valentin Stocker (90′ Gastón Sauro); Marco Streller (78′ Giovanni Sio)

Ununsed subs: David Degen, Philipp Degen, Matías Delgado, Germano Vallati

Chelsea: Petr Cech; Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta; Ramires, John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard; Oscar (55′ Eden Hazard), Samuel Eto’o (42′ Fernando Torres), Willian (86′ Kevin De Bruyne)

Unused subs: Ashley Cole, Juan Mata, Andre Schürrle, Mark Schwarzer

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.