Chelsea: Neutrals Don't Like Us & We Couldn't Care Less
Mourinho didn’t even try and hide it, didn’t try to deny what he set out to do: "We didn't play for 0‑0 but the game goes in a certain direction where you feel that you have to be safe, don't concede, and try to score in the few chances you have.” In the face of pressures, mostly from neutrals and the press but also, in the past, from his boss Roman Abramovich, to play free-flowing, attacking football, Mourinho didn’t even flinch.
Plan A was to grab an away goal. Plan B was to walk away with a 0-0 draw. Whichever plan came off on the night Jose set out to avoid the disastrous showing that led to a 3-1 defeat in the first leg against Paris St Germain in the quarter-finals. Either way you look at it, this was mission accomplished for Mourinho and his Chelsea side. Whether the gods shine down on them at Stamford Bridge once again is another thing altogether.
Historically this result doesn’t favour Mourinho’s side though. During the quarter-final stage three of the four teams to progress kept clean sheets at home, including both of these sides of course. Mourinho’s two Champions League wins came after playing at home first. Arbitrary stat? Probably yes, but Mourinho will have to do it in a different way if he wants that third top European honour.
David Luiz and Gary Cahill will once again, as they did towards the end of the triumphant 2012 campaign, have to step up at the heart of defence. They will get a lot of help though, as Chelsea will doubtless set up in much the same way for the home leg. At least to start with. The bigger issue than the loss of skipper John Terry is the loss of calming influence Petr Cech in goal. Mark Schwarzer is 41 (now officially the oldest to compete at this level, take that Edwin van der Sar) and was at fault for the first Sunderland goal in what went on to be a hammer blow 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge. He performed well when called upon but will need to stay error free if Chelsea want to progress to their second final in three years.
In what became a strange game of 'anti-possession' on Tuesday, stalemate was inevitable. Neither side operates to its full potential with lots of possession, and both managers are savvy enough to know this. Fernando Torres cut a lone figure on his return to a pretty welcoming crowd at the Vicente Calderon. His first touch is so poor now that he can’t even hold up the ball when it is so important in games like this. I still believe Demba Ba is the better option in Samuel Eto’o’s absence, but we will have to wait and see if Mourinho agrees on Wednesday.
Zonal Marking were at their brutally honest best following the first leg: “There were few genuinely interesting features of the game and no real progression to the tactical battle.” Even Chelsea fans will struggle to say they genuinely enjoyed the game, but if you can accept what the team set out to do, and the way they executed that tactical plan on the night, at the least some admiration can be felt.
First legs are so often cautious, defensive affairs. Bayern Munich v Real Madrid the following night was hardly a classic, and again here the counter-attacking side proved the victor over an ineffectual sideways moving possession-based approach from Pep Guardiola’s side.
Social media lit up with indignation following the final whistle as Chelsea once again “parked the bus” that Mourinho brought in to common parlance. The fact is that any other English side would love to be where Chelsea are right now: within a home win of another Champions League final. For all their bravery Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City aren’t still here, scrapping away for the shiniest piece of silverware.