Chelsea eke out win in Basel

David Luiz hovering - Clive Rose

For a relatively easy 2-1 away win in Europe, this game sure was strange. Basel, who knocked out Tottenham Hotspur in the quarterfinals, were somehow reduced to raving incompetents by the prospect of playing against a real London team*. Chelsea decided to join them in their descent into madness late in the second half, and the referee had opted for ostentatious incompetence from the very beginning.

*That's known as a 'sick burn' in this business, folks.

Seriously, he called this a penalty:


via @brocadfael

But more on that later.

Chelsea began on the back foot, as they are wont to do these days, and Basel rapidly had them penned up in their own half. That said, the hosts didn't really look much like threatening Petr Cech's goal -- David Luiz and Frank Lampard were doing a good job in the pivot, the back four was well organised and the wingers were nice and defensive.

It was a team set up to counterattack, and, eventually, counterattack they did. Cesar Azpilicueta was all over the place on the right hand side (in a good way), and eventually he managed to get free high up the pitch, spot Lampard's run, and send in a fizzing cross to meet it. The midfielder managed to flick it in the direction of the far post with the outside of his right boot, forcing Yann Sommer to push behind for a corner.

From that corner, Chelsea struck. By accident. Granted, Branislav Ivanovic's run was pretty super, losing as it did all the covering defenders and creating a free header, but th Serbian completely mis-hit his effort. Which was a good thing, because the ball then ricocheted off Victor Moses' forehead and bounced over the startled Mohamed El-Nenny and in at the back post.

1-0 Chelsea, and an away goal to boot. Happy days, although the lead threatened to be cut short when Ivanovic brought down Marco Streller near the edge of the box. Fabien Schar took the free kick, and although Cech had it covered, the shot was still hit hard enough to prevent the goalkeeper from doing anything but tipping the ball behind for a corner.

That chance was followed up by a referee-inspired opportunity. Pavel Kravolec decided that Serey Die wiping out David Luiz near the touchline was no foul at all, and that eventually led to panic in the Chelsea box. Valentin Stocker evaded the attentions of Ivanovic and passed to Streller only for the centre forward to let the ball escape with a poor first touch, which allowed a relieved Cech to gather.

Chelsea were quite happy to soak up pressure, because the more bodies Basel committed forward, the easier it was to find space between the lines. Eden Hazard and Moses were the keys, and that duo combined with Fernando Torres to create a decent opportunity just after the half-hour mark -- Torres, the magic of his mask gone, took a touch, slipped, and saw his off-balance effort saved by Sommer.

Lampard set up Ramires from a similar position a couple of minutes later, and the Brazilian drew a smart stop from the goalkeeper with the outside of his boot, a chance that would have been finished off had a certain striker chased it down. But any failing on Torres' art was soon overshadowed by a pair of ludicrous misses by Hazard, who first blasted a loose ball into the stratosphere from ten yards before one-upping that by poking well wide with only Sommer to beat.

That second miss was the last significant action of the first half, and while the Chelsea defence had pretty well held off Basel before the break, after was a very different story. The back line went into panic mode and then briefly turned off, allowing Stocker to smack a shot past the frozen Cech and off the base of the post. Streller was causing problems too, and the big forward could easily have gone down under Ivanovic's challenge just after the Stocker chance -- thankfully he stayed on his feet.

The Blues responded via Hazard, who danced past several challenges before pulling the ball back to the spot. Both Lampard and Torres were on hand to try for the shot, but the latter reached it first and send a left foot shot high off the inside of Sommer's post. That attempt was against the general run of play, however. Chelsea were content to soak up pressure and for a long while it looked like the game would end up as a very boring 1-0 win.

Which would have been fine, of course. Ultimately, however, that's not how the match turned out. Basel added more men to the attack and Rafa Benitez's substitutions did not have the desired effect of solidifying the defence. The just-back-from-injury Ashley Cole somehow picked up a yellow card for timewasting, leaving him suspended for the second leg, and Aleksander Dragovic followed him for a lunge on Torres.

Things got a little chippy towards the end -- substitute David Degen was booked for putting Juan Mata in a headlock, then fouled David Luiz in the centre circle. That foul sent David Luiz into angry mode, and the Brazilian might have found himself sent off minutes later when he had a five-second angry and put a little more force than he should have in winning the ball, spiking Phillip Degen in the process.

Kravolec let the geezer off, brandishing yellow rather than red, but any talk of bias in Chelsea's favour evaporated when he decided that a very good clearance from Azpilicueta was actually a foul, with Stocker flinging himself theatrically to ground as the right back shielded the ball to safety. Everyone was mystified when Kralovec pointed to the spot, and when Fabian Schar sent Cech the wrong way to level the tie at 1-1 -- in the 87th minute, no less -- it felt as though the team had been robbed of a vital away win to go along with Sunday's debacle at Anfield.

The sense of injustice actually spurred Chelsea into action. Oscar should have scored immediately after a crazy scramble in front of Sommer's net which saw both Torres and Mata mis-hit shots, but instead he smashed high and wide. Then Sommer made an incredible point-blank save from John Terry, who must have thought he'd scored when he latched onto Moses' injury-time flick two yards out.

But just when all hope looked gone, David Luiz had the last laugh. He'd been incredibly disciplined in refraining from long-range efforts despite being given time and space by the Basel defence all match, but he eventually stepped up when Streller downed Ramires 25 yards out. And so, with the last kick of the game, he slotted a free kick through a gap in the wall left by Oscar, leaving Sommer unable to do more than palm the ball into the bottom corner.


via @brocadfael

2-1 Chelsea. Job done. Onwards and upwards, eh?

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