Once again, Chelsea are the last team standing in Europe. United may have wrapped up the title, City may be shoo-in for the FA Cup, but Chelsea, in the midst of a season to forget and to forget quickly, once again carry the banner of the English Premier League on the continent. Take a bow.
At first I was going to make this all about Zorres this and Zorres that and how he's going to steal from the rich and give to the poor, just like a certain Swiss folk hero ... and then I realized that was William Tell. Soooo ... yeah. And since there's a distinct lack of sharpshooters on this team - not a single one of them could reliably arrow an apple on top a man's head, that's for sure - and nowadays we don't even have Roberto Di Matteo's Swiss connection, William Tell is definitely out. Although that movie with Kevin Kostner was super awesome when I was younger. No, wait, that was Robin Hood. Gah!
Zorro, William Tell, Robin Hood, what do they all have in common? Determination? Grit? Perhaps. Do Chelsea possess either? Perhaps.
A lot has been said and written about such perceived qualities, or lack thereof, in Chelsea Football Club since the latest last-minute capitulation, cannibalization, Donner party reenactment. Gritty determination, determined grit, Chelsea ain't got it. (Or do they?) Do we blame the manager? Do we blame the players? Do we blame the psychological factors? Do we blame the physical factors? Do we not blame anything at all and just accept it as another twist of fate at the hands of the football gods - who do seem to be in mischievous mood as the Champions League results of the last two days attest. Do we blame everything all the time?
Yes and no. Probably and probably not.
We do have to remember that this squad has come back from a two-goal deficit to Manchester United. Twice! Once even at Old Trafford and that's something that simply does not happen*. Sure, they also lost to QPR at the Bridge and let Adam Le Fondre make a fool of them. None of these things should conceivably happen, yet they did. Because there's greatness in this team, waiting to be unlocked, marshaled, and motivated. Is Jose Mourinho the man for that job? Maybe. His name is not Rafael Benitez and I'd say that's a perfect start.
But it's not next season yet. It's this season and this season is far from over. There is an all-important top four finish to achieve and perhaps a cup to win. Let's get both! We have seen this team raise their game time and time again this season. It may be without pattern, with no rhyme nor reason, but surely it's not too much to ask for a few more?
* Coincidentally and ominously enough, tonight's opponents did just that as well last year in the Champions League.
Date/Time: Thursday, April 25, 20:05 BST; 3:05 P.M. EDT; 12:35 A.M. IST (next day)
Venue: St. Jakob Park, Basel, Switzerland
TV Information: ITV 1 (UK); Fox Soccer (USA); Ten Action (India)
I'm tired of second or third or fourth best. Let's get a result here and then take care of business next week and in the final. The Europa is there for the taking; the top four is there for the taking. It can be done. We CAN have nice things.
FC Basel: They're the Steaua Bucharest or the Sparta Prague of Switzerland, i.e. by far the most successful team in the country and currently on course for their eight league title since 2002 along with a domestic double. They're also probably a fair bit better than either of those two. We only need to ask Manchester United.
Despite losing both Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka - a sad day for makers of 'X' stencils in Switzerland - Basel have remained strong. Veteran Marco Streller is a steady source of goals both domestically and in Europe and new signing Mohamed Salah was particularly impressive in a right wing role versus Tottenham Hotspur in the last round.
Basel have lost just once this calendar year and have not lost a competitive match at home since late August when CFR Cluj knocked them out of a Champions League qualifying round and into the Europa League. Meanwhile, Chelsea have been highly crap on the road - and not just in Europe - Sunday's result leaving the Blues with just three wins in thirteen away matches.
Chelsea: The team's at full Europa strength with both Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill joining the squad on the plane to Switzerland. Cole had looked iffy earlier in the week and there's still a decent chance that despite traveling, he may be saved for the weekend and Swansea City.
This will be Chelsea's first ever meeting with FC Basel.