By Michael Lightfoot
Sixty-one games into the season, Chelsea just keep going. A 1-1 draw and an away goal in Basel would not have been the worst result by any stretch, but David Luiz's free kick, the last action of the match, gave his side a timely boost ahead of the return leg next Thursday - and their latest Premier League fixture.
Their season has become a lesson - not quite a masterclass - in juggling. They have had to manage their personnel carefully over the past few months, with participation in the Europa League and the FA Cup supplementing their push for a place in the Premier League's top four.
That equaliser, scored, of course, by Luis Suarez, has been glossed over in the week following the Uruguayan's bite on Branislav Ivanovic, but will have been keenly felt at Stamford Bridge.
Seconds away from a hard-fought win at Anfield, the Blues would have gone ahead of Arsenal in the table with a game in hand. But Suarez's late strike kept them in fourth, only a point ahead of Tottenham, who had earlier romped past Manchester City to do their own chances of Champions League qualification a world of good.
Things looked like they were starting to get on top of Rafa Benitez and his side, especially as the Spaniard showed where his loyalties lie with his bland post-match remarks about Liverpool's controversial striker. Chelsea fans have relented in their criticism of the interim manager in recent weeks, but his nigh-on defence of his former club's best player will have reminded supporters of their gripes.
But Luiz's late free kick in St Jakob Park provided Chelsea with a much-needed spark, on and off the pitch, and a boost of adrenaline to rally the troops as they prepare to go again in the league on Sunday.
The Portuguese has been in the thick of the action in recent weeks, with his thunderbolt against Fulham two weeks ago tipping the match in Chelsea's favour as they looked to recover from their FA Cup exit.
Deployed in midfield on Thursday, he was typically influential.
If Chelsea had been aggrieved by Suarez's equaliser on Sunday, given that he should have been sent off for his bite, they will have felt relieved on the flight back to London late on Thursday night.
Luiz had earlier conceded a penalty to allow basel to level the scores, and could also have seen red for a high challenge on Philipp Degen. As it was, he only received a yellow card for his transgression and went on to score the winner.
|14/1||Chelsea are 14/1 with bet365 to beat Swansea 4-0 on Sunday
Swansea are next up at Stamford Bridge, where Mark Clattenburg will referee the Blues for the first time since he was incorrectly accused of having racially abused John Obi Mikel.
The Swans have already triumphed on Chelsea turf this season, a 2-0 win in the Capital One Cup semi-final that effectively ended the Blues' hopes of yet another trophy.
But the Welsh side have suffered a drop off in form since going on to win the cup at Wembley, and there are enough factors in play to ensure the Blues are raring to go once again.
Following victory on Thursday, Benitez remarked once again that his side can beat anybody, and with Luiz's goal having all but sealed Chelsea's place in the Amsterdam final, that momentum will prove invaluable as they breathlessly plough through an unrelenting fixture list.