Chelsea find reassurance in past

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The Independent Online

When Chelsea lost for the first time in 11 matches under the demanding stewardship of Jose Mourinho, at Manchester City, he said: "The best answer after a defeat is a victory."

When Chelsea lost for the first time in 11 matches under the demanding stewardship of Jose Mourinho, at Manchester City, he said: "The best answer after a defeat is a victory."

In the light of Tuesday's late 2-1 loss to Porto, he will doubtless repeat that mantra at some stage before the epic against Arsenal this weekend.

The comforting thought in west London is that with a five-point cushion to recline on at the head of the Premiership, a draw at Highbury would be an almost equally acceptable answer to the anti-climax of succumbing at the Estadio do Dragao.

After that previous loss, in mid-October, Chelsea reeled off eight victories in succession, extending the run to 13 unbeaten games before Tuesday and ensuring qualification for the knockout stage of the Champions' League as winners of Group H. So Benni McCarthy's 85th minute header in Portugal was of infinitely greater significance to the home side, who thereby managed to avoid becoming the first European champions not to progress beyond the first group phase of the remodelled competition.

Mourinho's pride was hurt, though he had feared that even the strong team he picked might sub-consciously relax a little - all the more so after taking the lead with Damien Duff's goal. "I sensed before the game that where there is nothing to play for, they find it hard to be motivated," he said. "It was the same with Barcelona in Donetsk, where they lost 2-0, because they didn't have to win."

Victor Fernandez, the Porto coach, still named Chelsea and Barcelona as Europe's best sides at present, while adding the rider: "The final is in five months' time, so there has to be a lot of consistency."

From the holders' point of view, scraping into the last 16 has also taken some of the pressure off the club president, Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa, who missed the game after spending 10 hours in a court being questioned in an investigation into alleged corruption of referees. He was released on bail of £125,000.

Further uncomfortable questions might also be asked about the isolated racial abuse by some Porto supporters of two Chelsea players, the Ivory Coast international Didier Drogba and William Gallas, the French defender. McCarthy, the amiable South African international, said after the game: "It makes me angry that my own supporters could do these things. I take it as well and I am no different from Drogba or any other black player. There are a lot of stupid people at Porto but if we make a big deal out of it things will get even worse."

Chelsea have won the opening group in all three of their Champions' League campaigns. The task now is to improve on one quarter-final and one semi-final, though as the draw is not until Friday week, Mourinho will be directing all thoughts towards 4.05pm on Sunday.

"It's a big game, that everybody wants to play and I look forward to it, in a beautiful stadium with a fantastic crowd," Mourinho said. "England is looking, maybe the world is looking."

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