Monday 9 December 2019

Henry Winter: Jose Mourinho's Chelsea must draw on spirit of 2012

Not with a whimper. Please, don’t go out with a whimper. If Chelsea’s European season is to end on Tuesday evening, so terminating an era, please let it be with the sweat and defiance that has characterised the team in the past decade, giving everything, fighting the odds and never, ever going quietly.

Before an impassioned support at the Bridge, we will discover how much life there is left in the old Chelsea dogma, how enduring is the spirit that powered Chelsea to the Champions League and the Europa League in the past two Mays. This could be their last stand or, thrillingly, another reminder of the dressing-room’s remarkable resilience.

Summer changes are anticipated anyway but they will be accelerated and more easily accepted if Tuesday proves a watershed. Thibaut Courtois will surely replace Petr Cech. The midfield no longer has Frank Lampard as its heartbeat. Diego Costa would be a substantial upgrade on Fernando Torres.

Whatever happens, Jose Mourinho will doubtless write the script to his benefit, strengthening his bargaining position with the board over new signings or earning glowing headlines for coaching ageing heavyweights to deliver another knockout punch. He has already played on the belief that Chelsea will go out, attempting to use the widespread scepticism to motivate his players further.

It must vex Mourinho that Chelsea’s most gilded moments in Europe over the past decade have come under other managers, a caretaker in Roberto Di Matteo and an interim in Rafa Benítez.

 It is hard to question a coach who has led two sides, Porto and Inter Milan, to glory in the Champions League but Mourinho still has a point to prove with Chelsea in Europe. He will organise, coax and inspire his players to give their all.

Paris St-Germain could be walking into an ambush.

Laurent Blanc’s visitors remain rightful favourites to progress to the semi-finals, even without the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Edinson Cavani moves central, Ezequiel Lavezzi will be a threat from all angles while the brio of attacking options like Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore remind Chelsea that they cannot afford any more slips. If PSG score, adding to their 3-1 first-leg advantage, it really will be over.

Chelsea require the near-perfect game from back to front. Cech, for so long a rock of ages, cannot afford another bad error as being beaten at the near post as by Pastore in Paris.

Chelsea need the unity and commitment seen when their first goal went in against Stoke City at the weekend; pictured in the background was Ashley Cole, rising from the bench, applauding the goal, putting to one side any frustration at again not starting, thinking only of the team. It is that camaraderie that has made Chelsea so formidable down the years.

To move forward in Europe, Chelsea must draw on their history.

They must remember the anger they felt when Liverpool scored what Mourinho described as “the ghost goal” in 2005. They must recall the despair when John Terry slipped in Moscow’s Luzhniki, missing the penalty that gave Manchester United the initiative in the 2008 shoot-out.

Some were not there but they know the story. Before Mourinho’s players step out into that small tunnel, they must bring to mind the disgraceful episode of the muddle-headed officiating of Tom Henning Ovrebo in the 2009 semi-final against Barcelona.

However vile the response of certain Chelsea players and supporters towards the Norwegian, the memory of what Ovrebo did – or more significantly did not do – that night still rankles: he turned down three clear penalties for a foul by Dani Alves on Florent Malouda, the tugging of Didier Drogba’s shirt by Eric Abidal and a Gerard Piqué handball.

Powerful emotions are easily found in Chelsea’s Champions League history. They need to summon up the spirit of 2012. Chelsea need the bloody-mindedness shown in the astonishing 4-1 extra-time home triumph over Napoli under Di Matteo, determination witnessed further when Terry idiotically got himself sent off against Barcelona but they still found a way through to the final. Even in Munich, trailing to Bayern, they fought back. That is the Chelsea way, never yielding, always believing. But oh for a Drogba tonight.

Drogba has gone. Other members of that team continued to campaign in Europe with Chelsea, winning the Europa League against Benfica, but Terry and company will have to dig so deep if Tuesday night is not to be a final chapter for this group in Europe. Do not expect them to leave the stage meekly.

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