Belfast Telegraph

Mourinho doubts Chelsea's desire as title dream starts to fade

The Parc des Princes is not Selhurst Park, Paris Saint-Germain are not Crystal Palace; and, without in any way underestimating the side sitting 13 points clear at the top of Ligue 1, Jose Mourinho believes it is just as well.

One of the conclusions Chelsea's manager drew from his side's unexpected 1-0 defeat to Tony Pulis's relegation candidates was that he has players who can barely be bothered with mundane assignments such as a Saturday afternoon in south London, but will rouse themselves once that Champions League music echoes round one of the great grounds of Europe.

The only individual Mourinho publicly rebuked was the ballboy allegedly guilty of delaying tactics, who the Chelsea manager feared might become a target for assault from Cesar Azpilicueta, just as happened with Eden Hazard at Swansea last season.

Never one to criticise a player in public, he nevertheless dropped some heavy hints about those he was most displeased with, exonerating by name the back four (and presumably goalkeeper Petr Cech, who could do nothing about John Terry's unluckily headed own goal).

Asked, however, about the hapless Fernando Torres, he said: "I like to analyse individual performances when I can say 'phenomenal performance'. So I prefer to say from my four defenders [it was a] phenomenal performance, the others I prefer not to analyse individually."

Torres and several other expensively acquired players would have been in his mind when he talked about those who "disappear" in some games and he added: "Clearly, during the season, we have players up and down in relation to the profile of the match. Stamford Bridge is better than away. Playing away against Arsenal or City or United or Liverpool is one thing, and another thing is to play Crystal Palace away or West Bromwich away or Stoke away."

It was a shocking condemnation, yet with the Champions League to play for – if no longer, he insisted, the domestic title – the manager still has to look for some positives. "Paris is the kind of match they feel comfortable to play," he said.

"Big match, great stadium, opponents with top quality, the profile of referee who stops a lot and doesn't let aggression into the game. They will be fine. They will be in their natural habitat in that match. They can play a good match there."

Those observers who felt he was messing with minds by insisting for months Chelsea were not title favourites still see deviousness in the manager's proclamation that it is "impossible" to win it now.

To be fair, he was speaking before Manchester City dropped two points at Arsenal but the dispiriting performance in a second successive away defeat backed up his assessment.

He did admit that when on top of the table "you have in the back of your mind the little feeling that you can still do it... but the reality is different."

The party line now is that what matters in the remaining six league games is securing a place in the top three, and identifying the striker Chelsea desperately need to sign this summer.

Belfast Telegraph

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