Switzerland Soccer  Champions League

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

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.

Chicharito sidelined two weeks with muscle injury

ROME, ITALY - NOVEMBER 04:  Javier Hernandez of Bayer 04 Leverkusen celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Roma and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Olimpico Stadium on November 4, 2015 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Bayer Leverkusen must move forward without their top talisman as Javier Hernandez is out with a muscle injury.

The Mexican international was forced off in the second half of Leverkusen’s midweek loss to Werder Bremen in the German Cup.

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Hernandez scored in that Werder Bremen match before getting injured, as the striker has now scored a remarkable 20 goals in his last 18 appearances for Leverkusen.

With a torn muscle fiber in his left glute, Leverkusen boss Rogers Schmidt announced Chicharito could be out for two or even three weeks.

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Including this weekend’s match at Darmstadt, Hernandez will likely miss both matches against Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League as well as a huge Bundesliga clash with Borussia Dortmund.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Manchester United

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  • United 6 points outside the top four
  • Sunderland winless in four
  • MUFC has one loss in 27 vs. SAFC (W20, D6, L1)

Manchester United’s uphill battle for a top-four finish continues on Saturday when the Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

United won this fixture in September 3-0 behind goals from Memphis, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Sunderland sit 19th on the table four points from safety as the time has come for Sam Allardyce‘s side to start getting results. Without a win in their last four matches, the Black Cats must turn things around if they want to stay up in the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored last time out in a draw at Liverpool, and he’ll once again be tasked with finding the back of the net if Sunderland are to win.

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For Manchester United, the pressure is still on Louis Van Gaal as rumors and reports circle linking Jose Mourinho to the job. Fifth on the table and six points behind Manchester City, a top-four finish is slipping away from United if they don’t rattle off a few wins. A late goal at Chelsea last weekend cost the Red Devils all three points, but they’ll look at this matchup against Sunderland as a good opportunity to get a positive result.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “Providing chances for Jermain Defoe is critical for us. But our first major problem is that we haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine matches. We need to start putting a zero against us in games and if we start doing that we’ll win more matches. If we win more matches, we’ll get out of trouble.”

United manager Louis van Gaal: “We had lost four matches in a row in December and you see us now. You can only say that we are mentally very strong and that we can cope with the pressure. That is not enough as we have to improve our results and consistency to win a lot of matches in a row. We have to minimize the gap to our competitors.”

Prediction

Sunderland need all the points they can get to try and stay up, but United always seem to cause the Black Cats problems. Jermain Defoe is kept off the board as Louis van Gaal takes the win. Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United.

Costa breaks nose, will be fit to play for “Zorro team” vs. Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea striker Diego Costa broke his nose in training after a clash of heads, but should be fit to play in Saturday’s match against Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Costa has six goals in his past seven Premier League games as Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 in all competitions.

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Manager Guus Hiddink spoke about the injury in his press conference on Friday, saying Costa collided with an Academy player in training. Hiddink said he believes Costa will be ready to play this weekend for his “Zorro team” as Costa joins Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, and Cesar Azpilicueta as Chelsea players to wear a mask this season.

It was not a tough duel but he put his nose on the back of the head of one of the youngsters from the Academy that we like to participate in our training games. He was very unlucky.

They are putting a mask on Diego as well, we are the team with a lot of masks, a Zorro team, and he will come back do some light training this afternoon as he must experience how he is dealing with the form and the fitting of the mask.

Costa scored a stoppage-time equalizer against Manchester United last weekend as Chelsea continue to get results under Guus Hiddink. The Blues are up to 13th on the table, just three points outside the top half.

[ RELATED: Frank Lampard urges Chelsea to sign John Terry ]

Chelsea will look to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches on Saturday against a Newcastle side that is just one point above the drop and in need of a result.