Tuesday 20 February 2018

Mourinho: PSG favourites as Blues work in progress

Chelsea boss underplays chances of Paris victory as he glances jealously at Blanc's forward power

PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic
PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Simon Johnson

The last time Jose Mourinho was asked to name a Chelsea team ahead of a massive Champions League fixture, he took great delight in reeling off his starting XI one by one. Here in Paris he chose to screw up a piece of paper that contained a list of his players and threw it away.

It was a light-hearted moment to ease the tension ahead of an extremely difficult Champions League quarter-final first leg, but the imagery appeared significant.

Nine years ago, Mourinho was in a much more combative mood as he prepared to take on Barcelona in the Nou Camp at the last 16 stage. The fact there was a squad of players he felt he could rely on back then encouraged such a bold approach and the mind game worked because Chelsea progressed over two fiercely contested legs – his counterpart Frank Rijkaard was left a broken man.

Paris Saint-Germain certainly pose just as tough a test now, as their 28-game unbeaten record at home in Europe testifies, yet Mourinho's stance couldn't have been more different.

Instead of being the aggressor, Mourinho was charm personified in his pre-match press conference. There were no antics, apart from another dig at PSG's ability to comply with financial fair play rules, just admiring glances for some of the talent they and some of the other quarter-finalists have at their disposal.


The 51-year-old has made no secret that during this second tenure at Stamford Bridge, his team is still very much a work in progress and has many shortcomings.

How he would love to win the Champions League with a third different club having triumphed with Porto and Inter Milan, but Mourinho continues to give the impression he doesn't believe he has the quality to achieve it yet.

The former Real Madrid coach gave a huge insight into his damaged psyche after the 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace at the weekend by questioning the work ethic and mentality of his players. It was the first indication of surrender.

To add to his woes, Chelsea's top-scoring forward Samuel Eto'o had to be left behind in England due to a hamstring injury, meaning the beleaguered Fernando Torres will lead the line this evening instead.

Given that the Spanish international has netted 13 goals in his past 18 appearances in Europe, one might think Mourinho would prefer that to be the case.

However, Torres has proved unreliable and certainly not the talisman that PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scorer of 10 Champions League goals this season, has become. While there is no doubt Eden Hazard is a crown jewel, one that PSG's owners continue to crave despite spending €300m on players over the past two years, Chelsea don't have the wealth of star quality others possess.

As Mourinho explained his reasons for making PSG favourites in the tie, he said: "Because they have a team full of fantastic attacking players, not to mention the others. I could talk about Thiago Silva and go on and on and on.

"It is a team full of fantastic strikers and goalscorers, and that is what really makes the difference at this level.

"You look to the teams who are in the top eight at this moment, and all of them are good teams. Different, but good teams. Good structures with a certain philosophy.

"But, after that, you go and you see (Lionel) Messi, (Cristiano) Ronaldo, (Robert) Lewandowski, Diego Costa, Ibrahimovic, (Edinson) Cavani, (Ezequiel) Lavezzi – they have lots of them. At this level, it's a very important part of a team."

Conversely, PSG appeared to aim some envy in Chelsea's direction themselves. The comparisons with the west London club are obvious given that both have relied on rich owners to threaten the elite.

Chelsea have already been rewarded for Roman Abramovich's mass spending on the Continent with the Champions League and Europa League secured in the past two years.

PSG have dominated the domestic scene and are on course for a second successive Ligue 1 title, yet winning silverware in Europe's premier club competition is a dream rather than a reality.

It is why their coach Laurent Blanc argues Chelsea should make their experience count against his men, but Mourinho countered: "I don't think it plays a big role. Maybe Paris as a club doesn't have, over the last decade, the same level as Chelsea, but player by player and the picture is not like that.

"Thiago, Alex, Motta, Maxwell, Ibra, Cavani... they have big experience in the competition. Our case can be a bit different. As a club, we are in the Champions League season after season, but we have some players without Champions League experience."

Other events elsewhere were also threatening to provide a distraction to the visitors. Reliable left-back Cesar Azplicueta was at his wife's bedside on Monday to see the birth of his baby daughter Martina.

Given that Ashley Cole is still sidelined with a knee problem and Dutch youngster Nathan Ake is providing the only cover, Chelsea must be relieved that things weren't delayed by 24 hours or more.

Meanwhile, the club were also facing the prospect of being investigated by the Holland Football Association over the nature of their relationship with Vitesse Arnhem, where a number of their youth players have been sent on an annual basis on loan. It just added to the feeling that Chelsea need a positive result this evening to lift some of the negativity, some of which is even in Mourinho's own mind. (© Independent News Service)



Irish Independent

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