Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho full of admiration for PSG's talented band of superstars

PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 01: Chelsea's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho speaks to the media during a press conference on the eve of the UEFA Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain FC and Chelsea FC at Parc des Princes stadium on April 1, 2014 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Dominique Charriau/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 01: Chelsea's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho speaks to the media during a press conference on the eve of the UEFA Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain FC and Chelsea FC at Parc des Princes stadium on April 1, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dominique Charriau/Getty Images)

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 throw 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.

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 a work in progress.

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 last 18 appearances in Europe, one might think Mourinho would prefer that to be the case.

However, Torres has proved unreliable and 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 euros on players over the last two years.

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.

"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 very important."

Conversely, PSG appeared to aim some envy in Chelsea's direction themselves. The comparisons are obvious given that both have relied on rich owners.

Chelsea have already been rewarded with the Champions League and Europa League.

PSG have dominated the domestic scene, yet winning Europe's elite competition is a dream.

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, 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."

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