Chelsea can be imperious at home. For the most part they are. There’s an inevitability about Jose Mourinho’s side when they welcome a domestic or continental giant to Stamford Bridge.
The irony is the source of Chelsea’s goals against PSG on Tuesday night. The irony is that Chelsea started with Samuel Eto’o, who wasn’t at 100 per cent, and PSG had two world-class forwards in their starting XI in Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
That the tie looked to be over following PSG’s 3-1 win last week says a lot about Mourinho and his players. It says a lot because despite the criticism of his strikers – a group, knowing full well that they’re on their way out, who could have mailed it in for the remainder of the season – and an admission that this little horse isn’t quite ready for the big time, Mourinho’s players are still able to buy into what he says.
Mourinho’s sprint down the touchline raised memories of Porto’s visit to Old Trafford a decade ago. The manager excused his exuberant run into the corner as nothing but an opportunity to pass on some final instructions to his players.
And they listened. Again. Demba Ba was back among his own defenders; Fernando Torres tracked back and broke up PSG’s attacks.
This Chelsea team can’t seem to do it against the smaller teams. Away from home, at Stamford Bridge; it doesn’t really matter. Unless there’s an occasion made of it, you simply don’t know which Chelsea team are walking out onto the pitch.
So if Mourinho’s little horse isn’t capable of holding off the twin attacks from up north on the Premier League title, what of the European Cup?
Chelsea’s supporters sang out that they’d “done it before.” And why not? It looked unlikely last week. It’s unbelievably difficult to do it when there is no one constant in front of goal. Mourinho’s last Champions League triumph involved a Samuel Eto’o who was fresh off a 34-goal season the year prior with Barcelona, and he still wasn’t Inter Milan’s focal point of attack that year.
Ahead of Atletico Madrid kicking off their second leg game against Barcelona tonight, Diego Simeone’s side are the only team who haven’t tasted defeat in the Champions League this season. Like Mourinho’s team and squads of the past, Atletico’s players will run through walls for their manager. Things like that, an unwavering belief in what is being told to you – and for whatever Mourinho has said in public, we have no idea what’s being said in the dressing room – can compensate for any obvious deficiencies.
PSG controlled the game in the early stages at Stamford Bridge. Their midfield trio of Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi should be the envy of most teams around Europe. They’re a blend of efficiency, flair, intelligence, and industry. They, however, would have been excused for being let down by the three ahead of them.
Lavezzi, Cavani and Lucas Moura cost a combined £116 million, and yet they couldn’t mount a sustained attack on Petr Cech’s goal. When things like that go your way, considering PSG’s forward line’s capabilities, you take it to heart. You find consistencies in what has happened in the past. There was nothing overly dramatic or controversial about the game at Stamford Bridge, at least not to the extent of matches in previous seasons, but it adds to the belief being fed by the manager.
Even without genuine scoring options, Mourinho still found a way to win and progress to the semi-final. PSG’s failings can be discussed for the remainder of the week, but this was another demonstration that what Mourinho is selling is still considered gold by his players.