Late Mohamed Salah goal gives Basel second straight win over Chelsea

Leave a comment

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

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

Ian Walton/Getty Images
2 Comments

Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alexis Sanchez over the weekend ]

The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.