London – According to their manager, Chelsea are not going to win the Champions League or the Premier League this season, but Jose Mourinho urged his side to give Chelsea fans a “performance and a result to be proud of”.
“There is a massive difference between first and second,” said Fernando Torres. “We want to be first in the group.”
Instead, however, there were a few grumbles around Stamford Bridge when referee Gianluca Rocchi blew for half-time. Chelsea had enjoyed 72 per cent of possession yet were only 1-0 up thanks to a clumsy Demba Ba goal after surviving a few scary moments at the back. So much for a swashbuckling ascent into the knockout stages. This was functional rather than thrilling.
They should not have been surprised, however. Unlike the predictable training-ground dummies Mourinho quipped could probably score against his defensively shaky side, you never quite know what you are going to get with this Chelsea team. Drama? Probably. Goals? Yes, but they could come for or against Mourinho’s men these days. Inconsistency? Most definitely.
Saturday’s Premier League match against Crystal Palace would have been a home banker in times gone by but, although the odds are still heavily stacked in Chelsea’s favour, it is not so in 2013.
The clinical, occasionally brutal Chelsea who could snuff the life out of a match and “kill opponents” when three points were at stake seem to belong to a different era. “Not good enough,” said captain John Terry in the matchday programme.
It was interesting to hear Mourinho call this campaign his “first season” during his 45-minute monologue in Tuesday’s pre-match briefing. There is clearly, and understandably, still much affection for the second coming of the Special One but, with “an important period” coming up over Christmas it is time for Chelsea to rediscover the ruthless streak that brought them such success last time around.
“You have to take advantage of the control that you have,” noted Mourinho. Control, the element Sir Alex Ferguson prized above all else during his reign at Old Trafford, is, however, something this team struggle to gain and then hammer home, despite the all-seeing eye of a manager who has insisted he will not change his approach.
Mourinho duly stood on the touchline with his hands in the pockets of his black quilted jacket for long periods last night. Just looking. The Steaua Bucharest fans targeted him with laser pens but he did not seem to notice as he watched his side exposed during rare attacks by a team seemingly intent on having some fun in their last Champions League outing.
Previous Chelsea teams would not have afforded them such luxury; let alone been exposed by the delicious through-ball that gifted Gabriel Iancu a golden chance to equalise. Yet Chelsea still got the job done.
It seemed fitting that Mourinho gave Ashley Cole his first start since November 2 as one of seven changes to the side beaten 3-2 at Stoke last weekend. The full back is 32 but is still likely to be offered another deal when his contract expires at the end of the season. He charged up the left flank looking, at times, as if he had never been away. With proven winners such as Cole, Terry and Frank Lampard, you feel Chelsea still have a chance, even if the legs do not move as quickly as they once did.
Chelsea, though, need to find their level and maintain it. Mourinho may really feel the Champions League and Premier League are beyond Chelsea — although you sense a fair sprinkling of old-fashioned kidology at play there — but there is still the Capital One Cup, in which Chelsea face Sunderland in the quarter-finals.
Mourinho bringing League Cup silverware to Stamford Bridge started something in this part of west London last time around, after all. – Daily Mail