London – Jose Mourinho has warned his Chelsea stars that finishing top of their Champions League group is no guarantee they will be able to make a serious challenge for the trophy.
Mourinho's side ensured they took first place in Group E with a 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest thanks to Demba Ba's first half goal at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
But it was an underwhelming display from the Blues against a Steaua team who offered only token resistance and Chelsea boss Mourinho added to the downbeat mood by refusing to talk up his team's chance of emulating their 2012 triumph in the competition under Roberto Di Matteo.
Mourinho may have been indulging in a little kidology to take the pressure off his players when he claimed he is unconvinced his squad is mature enough to win Europe's elite club competition.
Yet the Portuguese coach's words also contained more than a grain of truth in the aftermath of the latest spluttering performance in what has been an erratic start to his second spell in charge at the Bridge.
“We have to grow up step by step. We go now to matches that are new to some of my players,” Mourinho said.
“Some of my players didn't play any games in the knockout stages of the Champions League. They have played group stages and the Europa League. It will be a different scenario for them.
“There are teams in this moment in better condition to win the competition, or at least be seen as the favourites; Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid.”
In theory finishing top of the group will give Chelsea a less daunting opponent when the draw is made for the last 16.
The Blues will face either AC Milan, Zenit Saint Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Olympiakos or Galatasaray, who feature former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba.
But Mourinho, who would relish a clash with Drogba, is yet to be convinced that Oscar, Eden Hazard and Willian, his talented but inexperienced young playmakers, will be able to flourish under the intense pressure of a knockout tie against Europe's best.
“There are good teams who finished second. Sometimes of course we look to the top ones and you see they are the main candidates to win the competition, but in the second position you have difficult teams,” Mourinho said.
“Milan are possible opponents and they have won the European Cup many times.
“You have the Russian champions. You have a German team in Leverkusen who are always very difficult and the Turkish champions with 'King Didier'.
“He deserves to come here and get a reception like I did when I returned.
“I know what I felt and I think he deserves that.”
On the evidence of the lacklustre effort against Steaua, which came just days after a shock 3-2 defeat at Stoke, Mourinho's rebuilding of Chelsea is still a work in progress.
In the circumstances, maybe it wasn't a surprise that he was coy when asked what his targets were for the current squad, opting instead for a less than subtle dig at his Chelsea predecessor Rafael Benitez, an old enemy of Mourinho, who won the Europa League during his spell as interim boss last season.
“The only target was to not win the Europa League again and that target is done,” Mourinho.
“Now we have to do the best we can in the Champions League. In the Premier League I think the first target is to ensure we finish in the top four.”
Steaua's complete lack of goal threat meant the only danger to Chelsea on Wednesday came from the Romanian fans, who took to shine a green laser pen at Mourinho and his players in an unsuccessful bid to distract them.
“I felt it a couple of times, but it was not a big thing. I felt no pain, so I kept going!” Mourinho said. – Sapa-AFP