Chelsea were so focused on the fight, they forgot about the football against PSG

Winning ugly is one thing but losing ugly is quite another

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The Independent Football

Playing with the dark arts of football is a dangerous game. Jose Mourinho has mastered it during his career and been rewarded with 17 major trophies. But on Wednesday night Chelsea tried to unleash them on Paris Saint-Germain only for those forces, like an errant firework, to turn back and explode in their faces.

Winning ugly is one thing but losing ugly is quite another and Chelsea woke up this morning out of Europe and out of admirers, after a performance that was as unedifying as it was unconvincing. The scramble to convince referee Bjorn Kuipers to send off Zlatan Ibrahimovic was not pretty – even John Terry had the self-awareness to admit that it “did not look good at all” – and nor were Diego Costa’s attempts, all evening, to drag PSG’s centre-backs into a scrap.

Mourinho had complained on Monday that PSG were the most “aggressive” team Chelsea had played all season, more so than Bradford City or Shrewsbury Town. It sounded unusual at the time, given how physical and canny Mourinho’s Porto, Chelsea and Internazionale sides have been in the past.


On Wednesday night, Chelsea looked so keen not to be outfought by PSG that they almost neglected the match itself. “We will match them if they want to mix it, it is part of our game as well,” said Terry afterwards. But while PSG used that side of the game to their advantage, Chelsea, for once, could not. They were so transfixed by the fight that the game passed them by.

Costa, in the club’s biggest match of the season, put in his least effective performance. He has played brilliantly all year but on Wednesday he was merely the pantomime villain, not backing up his talk with anything resembling walk.

Mourinho said after the match that his team “could not cope with the pressure”, that it was primarily a psychological failure from his players: “I always think that your central nervous system is the most important thing.” He is probably right but Mourinho has been back at Stamford Bridge for almost two years now and this squad, which he has meticulously constructed, is not taking its mental cues from anyone but him.

Mourinho has been on a war footing since Christmas, even more than he was at the back end of last season, when Chelsea came so close to winning the Champions League and the Premier League but ended up with neither. He has gone on, at great length, about a “campaign” against his team, which cost him a £25,000 fine from the Football Association. He has cancelled press conferences along with other media duties and annexed the Goals on Sunday studio to make his case.

If this was done to create a siege mentality at Stamford Bridge, it has certainly succeeded. Enemies are perceived almost everywhere. But on Wednesday evening, Chelsea tried to go to war and forgot to play the game. It was not a pretty sight.