By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - After last season's Champions League blip when they failed to advance from their group but still won the Europa League, Chelsea are well placed to reach the last 16 of the elite competition again in the next few weeks.
Last season's failure in the Champions League seven months after being crowned European champions was later tempered by beating Benfica in the Europa League final in Amsterdam, but whether they can go on to win a European trophy for the third successive season is a matter of some considerable doubt.
Their flattering 3-0 win over Schalke 04 at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday put them in a commanding position at the top of Group E and they need just one point from two remaining matches at Basel on November26 and at home to Steaua Bucharest on December11 to make the last 16.
That would mean they would avoid the ignominy of being relegated down to the Europa League again this season and so cannot retain that trophy, but the team Jose Mourinho currently has at his disposal seems ill-equipped to cope with the current best in Europe.
Mourinho knows all about winning the big prizes, having tasted success in the Champions League with Porto in 2004 and Inter Milan in 2010 and he is still likely to become the first man to lift the European Cup with three different clubs.
That third club could well be Chelsea in the next few seasons, but on the evidence provided in their last two matches, it's doubtful if it will happen back in his native Portugal at Benicia's Stadium of Light in next May' s final.
Chelsea needed a freakish goal from Samuel Eto'o after 31 minutes break the deadlock on Wednesday after Schalke, beaten 3-0 at home by the Londoners two weeks ago, started the better team.
They went on to win with a second Eto'o goal and one from Demba Ba but the night was not without its problems for Mourinho and his men.
Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard, 22, was left out of the squad after missing training on Monday having reported back late after watching his old team Lille play on Sunday.
Mourinho, in his most-Mourinho-esque mode explained: "I don't want to lie. He is not injured."
Asked why Hazard missed training, he replied: "He forgot the time. He is a kid. Kids make mistakes. Fathers have to be clever in the way they educate their sons. He didn't play. He wanted to play. He is sad because he did not play.
"We won without him. And Saturday he is back."
Hazard was one of six changes to the side beaten 2-0 at Newcastle United in the Premier League on Saturday when Mourinho said he made "11 mistakes" in his team selection.
The new-look side again misfired with a listless start and were surprisingly porous in midfield for most of the opening half.
The one ray of sunshine for Mourinho is that over the two legs, his strikers Torres, Eto'o and Ba have all scored.
Goals win matches of course but whether Chelsea have the right balance yet to win enough of them to become European champions again is open to considerable debate.
(Reporting by Mike Collett)