The Special One Ready to Turn Stamford Bridge into a Fortress

Compared to last season, Chelsea did a better job in Paris, but the fans can’t help but feel disappointed for not winning the game. The English side was the better one in the first half, but deliberately conceded ball possession in the last 45 minutes and PSG took advantage. Jose Mourinho took some calculated risks but his strategy backfired and the Portuguese manager can consider himself lucky for not losing the match.

Having said this, he is still one of the most experienced managers in professional football and knows how to manage a 1-1 draw when action shifts to Stamford Bridge. The match is scheduled for early March, so the top priority is to prevent injuries despite the busy schedule. Chelsea play in the Capital One Cup final against Tottenham then take on another local rival in the Premiership, when West Ham come visiting.

Now that Manchester City has narrowed the gap, separating them from the leaders to just five points, Chelsea needs to win the next three games in a row. At the time of writing, there are no injury concerns and no players suspended, so The Special One can field a competitive starting formation. The problem is that all these games will be intense and Mourinho will need to rotate players to keep the squad healthy, while still avoiding defeat.

Chelsea Expected to Shift into a Less Aggressive Gear

Compared to last season when the Blues were in dire need of all three points against PSG, this time they could settle for a scoreless draw. This would be enough to advance to the next stage of the Champions League and Mourinho will sacrifice appealing football in a heartbeat if this would guarantee qualification. Shifting into defensive gear is not going to be a problem despite having so much potential up front, because midfielders will support both the backline and the two strikers.

Savvy punters have probably noticed that over the last month, Chelsea scored an average of one goal per match and focused mostly on keeping clean sheets. It’s nearly as though Mourinho had learnt the lesson of patient waiting and attentive observation of the unfolding of the “hand” before his eyes in the poker strategy manual. A point at the end of regulation time in all three games wouldn’t be a glamorous result, but it would get the job done and this is what the manager will be aiming for.

Poker players sometimes do exactly the same when participating in multi-table tournaments, if they manage to accumulate enough chips in front of them. During the bubble stage, chip leaders thrive while short stackers struggle and those in between are the ones that need to take the foot off the gas. The situation is volatile during this stage of the tournament and even those who have played aggressive poker just a few minutes before are tempted to retreat in a defensive shell.

Their tactic at this point is very similar to what Chelsea will be using in the next three games, highly speculative and to some extent dangerous. By taking fewer chances, they accept the fact that it is possible to miss out on lucrative opportunities, but this is a reasonable trade-off. When you are ahead, but have a long road ahead of you before actually finishing in the money, you need to avoid coin flips as much as possible and consolidate your slight advantage over the pack.

Chelsea VS PSG in 2014 and Now

To better understand what will happen in London on March the 11th and the reasons for why Mourinho will change his strategy, it is necessary to take a look at what happened exactly one year ago. Chelsea had similar players and the midfield is more or less the same, but the offensive was not that strong without Diego Costa. At the first glance, it might seem obvious for the home side to take advantage of this great striker and try to push PSG in a corner from the first minute.

The difference resides in the fact that last season they had to come out firing on all cylinders and scored twice without conceding a goal. The team had to take more chances, so if the worst-case scenario came to pass and had PSG scored on the road, they wouldn’t be trailing. The starting formation was very similar to the one used by Mourinho these days, with 4 players in the back line, 5 defenders and Eto’o upfront.

Diego Costa is younger, faster and apparently more effective at converting scoring opportunities, so he is more dangerous on the counterattack. Last season, Ibrahimovic was not fit to play the second leg, so the French side had to rely on only Cavani and Lavezzi but this time the Swedish player will be spearheading the offensive.

Mourinho needs to juggle three different competitions and even though the Champions League is the most important one, he won’t risk everything on one card. Chelsea will play defensive football despite having home pitch advantage and the lessons learned in the second half of the first leg will be put to good use in London.

 


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