Tactical genius underpins the cult of Mourinho
Success built on preparation and total faith of his players
Before the first leg of Chelsea's dramatic Champions League quarter-final with Paris Saint-Germain, the French daily sports newspaper 'L'Equipe' carried a front page simply with photographs of Jose Mourinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic under the headline 'The Special Match'.
In the showdown between two personalities who almost transcend their respective clubs, there could be no doubt who ultimately prevailed.
"Quelle Lecon" (what a lesson) was L'Equipe's verdict yesterday morning and the focus, quite rightly, was on the "tactical genius" in the home dugout at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho has done it often enough now that not everyone was surprised – former Chelsea midfielder Pat Nevin had predicted on BBC 5 Live before the game that Chelsea would win 2-0 – but this was still further compelling proof of a special manager.
The depth of the preparation became evident not just in Mourinho's 40-yard touchline sprint to issue fresh instructions to his players but also from post-match interviews.
"We worked on a lot on scenarios," John Terry, the Chelsea captain, said. "1-0, 2-0, 3-1, what we would do if Demba Ba comes on. Every scenario we had a game plan."
Mourinho himself revealed that he had correctly identified and prepared for each phase of the match. "We trained on Monday for the three systems we used," he said. "The one from the start, the one without Frank Lampard and finally the one with Demba and Nando (Torres)."
So just how did Chelsea go about executing Mourinho's masterplan? The basics, according to former assistant manager Ray Wilkins, were simple. "The consistency in his selection of the back five. When you are playing against Lucas, Cavani and Lavezzi you have a problem. But if you wanted to pick one team to get a clean sheet it would be Chelsea."
Mourinho's preference this season for Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic as his full-backs is instructive. Graphics showing the average position of Chelsea's players underline that Azpilicueta, who played behind Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle on Tuesday, is exceptionally cautious.
His priority is to defend and allow others to attack, something that was evident when his reward for one forward run in the first half was to be shouted at by Mourinho.
Keeping patient was the main instruction before kick-off and in the first phase of the match Chelsea pressed off the ball to ensure territorial advantage but depended on set-pieces or Schurrle and Samuel Eto'o for any runs behind the PSG defence.
Schurrle certainly finished his goal clinically but it owed more to mistakes in the PSG defence than any relentless Chelsea pressure and so Mourinho decided to switch to his 'Plan B' after 66 minutes. The departure of Lampard for Ba prompted a transformation in Chelsea's approach. With Ba pushing forward in support of Eto'o, David Luiz was effectively forced to 'hold' the midfield on his own and was described later by Mourinho as "a monster" for his contribution. It prompted a more direct style.
Ivanovic, Azpilicueta, Terry and Cahill stopped looking for the short pass into midfield and instead went straight for Eto'o or Ba in the hope that Oscar, Willian and Schurrle would benefit.
They hit the bar twice before Mourinho's second change after 81 minutes prompted an even more direct approach. At this moment Laurent Blanc, PSG's coach, made a mistake. Instead of seeking to exploit Luiz's midfield isolation, he sought to stabilise his defence and sacrificed Lucas for a third centre-back in Marquinhos.
It invited his side to defend even deeper and, when Torres pressurised Alex under a high pass forward, they could not clear before Ba scooped his winner past Salvatore Sirigu.
The third phase of the game may have been only three minutes plus added time but Mourinho's attention to detail was evident. Ba switched into a defensive role and Torres was pulled away from the celebrations to be told he must double-up on Maxwell. "The game plan was in Mourinho's mind," Lee Dixon said. "He was digging for Torres."
This is Mourinho's 10th time in the Champions League with four clubs and he has been involved in eight semi-finals, including the last five. That record alone gives his players belief.
"Absolutely I thought the score would be 2-0 because, if there is a way to win it, he always seems to find it," Nevin said. "Everybody worked hard but boy does Mourinho know how to win." (© Daily Telegraph, London)