Of course, few people bet against Jose Mourinho when it comes to such a contest. While rival fans laugh in the face of irony to criticise the Blues when they use such tactics, and embittered ex-footballers brand the Portuguese a peddler of ‘anti-football’ in order to retain a paycheque from television companies, Mourinho is simply concerned with one thing: winning.
More often than not, that’s exactly what he does. Last night, however, he and his troops failed. And the consequences were dire for them: the 2-2 draw eliminated them from the Champions League on away goals.
Mourinho sent his men into battle – literally – on Wednesday in the usual manner; the polarising style which combines playing pretty with fighting dirty. But unlike the majority of occasions, including at Upton Park a week ago, the usual approach wasn't quite working.
Instead of throwing the opposition off focus with questionable shenanigans, sheer physicality and an omnipresent threat to cut clean through the defence via the likes of Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas, Mourinho’s most common approach – not to football, but to trying to win – actually did the opposite. It gave PSG something to focus on.
Laurent Blanc’s position as coach is nowhere near as secure as Jose’s. He isn’t back for a second spell because a billionaire owner realises he needs the gaffer more than the gaffer needs the club. Nor does he have a significant rapport with the side’s core fan base. In fact, many suggested Blanc’s job hinged on yesterday’s result.
One of Blanc’s problems at Parc des Princes is that he, like Mourinho, is a footballing general. Rather than endorsing a particular philosophy like an Arsene Wenger or Pep Guardiola, Blanc thrives when leading like-minded souls into the fray, gesticulating from the technical area as if he is on the front line with them. When you’re widely expected to trounce all but two sides in your division, that kind of environment is sorely lacking.
At the Bridge, however, both coaches gave each other exactly what they wanted. And Dutch official Bjorn Kuipers only stoked the flames of war with his erratic officiating.
PSG matched Chelsea for physicality, work rate and even in terms of that ‘mean streak’. Both coaches chewed the ear of the fourth official whenever a controversial decision hindered them whilst sitting quietly in their dugout when they got the rub of the green, like a kid who’d just drawn all over the walls watching their sibling get the blame.
Some have called this karma against Chelsea, citing last year’s Champions League tie between the two as well as the home players’ role in getting Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent off. Mourinho himself lamented how they fell asleep at two set-pieces and conceded twice as a result. But it was something else Jose said which told the real story.
“When a team cannot cope with the pressure of having one player more playing at home, and the stadium doesn’t accept the team has to control the game and want them to go on and win it… we couldn’t cope with that pressure,” Mourinho said in a frank post-match presser.
When asked if a lack of fitness preparation for the game was why Chelsea were unable to keep up with the 10-men on home soil, Jose claimed it was the players’ central nervous system which let them down, not their stamina. And he was right. In short, the Chelsea players bottled the big game.
Those who are keen to rashly take the above statement as the manager passing the buck for this failure should ease up and remember that this is a boss who has created a very hard-to-like persona, saying things in interviews which deflect the spotlight of scrutiny from his troops and onto him.
Mourinho does tons to protect his players, and will continue to do so. But on this occasion, with the two sides cancelling each other out in a pit-fight of attrition and a man advantage to exploit, this was the time for the players to exert that extra attacking quality on top of the coach’s battle plans.
They failed. They failed themselves, they failed the fans and they failed Mourinho.
Jose refused to get drawn into a discussion about his feelings towards the performance after the fateful draw, instead saying he wanted to speak to his players and find out why they locked up in such a high-stakes game, with the opening to inject the classy football we know they can also produce right there in front of them.
That is why Jose Mourinho will, one day, get that all-elusive third Champions League trophy, and first as Blues boss.
While the nation looks upon last night’s failure as a tragic indictment of just how much the Premier League flatters to deceive, with Arsenal and Manchester City set to join Chelsea out of the competition and only Everton remaining in the Europa League, it’s doubtful Mourinho could give a hoot how many English sides join him in the latter stages, as long as he’s there, and as long as he’s winning it.
It isn’t about national supremacy or national inability for Mourinho, or many coaches. It’s about winning, pure and simple. And if you think for one second that other nations are leapfrogging the £5 billion pound league because they possess more national pride, think again. Do you really think France came together as one to celebrate the triumph of the Parisian powerhouses, funded by a Qatari tycoon?
To fix this problem before it costs the country its fourth Champions League spot, England needs more Mourinhos, not less. More managers who will win at all costs. More managers who will alienate the entire football community before they give a hoot about who thinks their football is negative or a chore to watch.
Managers who want to win. Not entertain, nor make friends. Just win.
Even in the wake of such a demoralising defeat, Mourinho is preparing to tackle problems with his players, in hope of preventing it from ever happening again. He won’t be checking Overreaction Theatre to see how many armchair fans on Twitter complained about how there weren't seven goals at Stamford Bridge. He won’t be asking Eamon Dunphy to give the team a masterclass on how to be more likeable by playing attractive football.
He will be back to try again next season, and the chances are his Chelsea side will be even nastier than before. Like it or not, they’ll once again offer England’s only serious chance of continental success.
Mourinho improved Chelsea when he returned in 2013/14 and with the deft signings of Fabregas and Diego Costa he improved them in 2014/15. With the funds and the burning desire to succeed, it’s hard to imagine this club suffering the same European fall from grace as their compatriots.
Liam Happe, Stamford Bridge - external@liamhappehttps://twitter.com/liamhappeNone