Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho gambles on Samuel Eto'o despite fitness worries
Jose Mourinho claimed tonight that his Chelsea team could out-score Paris Saint-Germain and reach the Champions League semi-finals, despite the fact that he is considering Samuel Eto’o as his starting striker, although the 33-year-old is not fully fit.
It is yet another indication of the lack of faith in his alternative striking options, including Fernando Torres and Demba Ba, that Mourinho signalled he was ready to risk Eto’o on Tuesday night, who has not played a game since he injured his hamstring against Arsenal on 22 March. Trailing 3-1 from the first leg, Mourinho admitted that Eto’o was not, in his words “fit-fit” but that he was still a possibility to start the game ahead of Torres, who played 90 minutes against Stoke City on Saturday.
Downbeat, and admitting he was a little “grumpy”, Mourinho said he still had Eto’o in mind for the game at Stamford Bridge. In response to a question about the fitness of Eto’o, he said: “Fit-fit, I don’t think he is. But play [against PSG]? Maybe. Maybe.” Eto’o has 30 career goals in the Champions League, three of them this season for Chelsea. Torres also has three in the competition this season.
Pushed on whether he believed that Chelsea could eliminate PSG, who have never been past the quarter-finals of the competition in their history, Mourinho roused himself to say that he still believed his side could prevail, although this was a long way from his most ebullient press conference. Having said after the first leg that he would have won the game with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani in his squad, he said this time that he believed his team could score the goals required.
Mourinho said: “They [PSG] have what they have, we have what we have. If you ask me if I think we’ll win, yes, I think so. I think so. That’s the most important thing for you to hear. I think we are going to win, really. I think, at the end of the two legs, we’ll have scored more goals than them. Pure mathematics. It is 3-1 now, but in the end I think it can be 4-3, or 5-4. If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t go to the game, and I’m happy to go.”
The mood of Mourinho suggested that the limitations he is facing with his squad as the season reaches its decisive moments are starting to wear at his patience. Certainly, it is difficult to see where the goals will come from. André Schürrle was the designated player for the Uefa press conference but there can be no certainties that the Germany international will start the game.
There appeared to be no grand plan pre-match from Mourinho to try to put the pressure on PSG, other than to say that there was an expectation that Chelsea would not progress. “I think if Paris are knocked out it will be a big disappointment for them,” he said. “If we are knocked out it’s something that, at this moment, lots of people are expecting. That’s why I say we have to enjoy the risk of the situation.”
Nevertheless, the pressure is on Mourinho, regardless of the power that PSG have had in the transfer market since their acquisition by Qatar. Chelsea have reached the semi-finals in six of the previous 10 Champions League seasons. They have also overcome a 3-1 deficit in the recent past with that 4-1 victory over Napoli in the second leg of the round of 16 two years ago under Roberto Di Matteo, who eventually won the trophy.
It is in ties like these that a manager of Mourinho’s quality is expected to make the difference and, however the supporters feel about the man in charge, there is always less sympathy in defeat from those who run Chelsea. Mourinho has never lost a quarter-final tie in either the Champions League or what was then the Uefa Cup when he was manager of Porto in 2003.
He is without Ramires, who is suspended for one game, as well as the ineligible Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah, both signed in January. As a consequence he said that there were no excuses for PSG, who are without the injured Ibrahimovic.
“Eto’o didn’t play the first game, and I’m not sure he plays the second game,” Mourinho said. “Ramires is suspended. Matic and Salah can’t play in the Champions League. And we are not crying. So the fact that a multimillionaire club that buys players and players doesn’t have one important player like Ibrahimovic I don’t think is a problem.”
It will be interesting to see how Mourinho sets up his team to play PSG, with a role to fill in midfield alongside David Luiz. He has the choice of John Obi Mikel or Frank Lampard, with the latter by far the more likely to score a goal on a night when Chelsea desperately need them. He does have a Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca in charge of the game, although Mourinho was at pains to point out that it was not the first time a manager had shared nationality with an official.
“The fact he’s Portuguese and you mention it surprises me because I played a Champions League semi-final against Liverpool [in 2007, second leg] with a Spanish manager [Rafa Benitez] and had a Spanish referee [Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez]. I played last season against Manchester City [in the group stages] with an Italian referee [Gianluca Rocchi] and an Italian manager [Roberto Mancini]. And that’s European football.’
Invited to stress the importance of the home crowd getting behind their players, Mourinho simply said that it would require his team to spark the mood. “Everything starts with us,” he said although, as of Monday night, Mourinho himself was not prepared to start anything.