Chelsea lack cutting edge up front in Europe
SPORTING LISBON 0
(Nemanja Matic 34)
Jose Mourinho enjoyed a successful homecoming, but not a particularly satisfactory one.
The Portuguese club that produced such a raw coaching talent offered a reminder yesterday morning (Singapore) that his current crop are by no means the finished article.
Chelsea are heavy in class, but light on the killer touch.
Their profligacy in front of goal made the trip to Sporting Lisbon a far more harrowing ordeal than it needed to be.
For a streamlined scoring machine that has already churned out 19 goals in six games on the domestic production line, the Blues are still brittle on the biggest stage.
Two goals in two Champions League games do not suggest trophy-winning material.
Always on message, Mourinho made a point of addressing his side's feeble fumbling in the final third to a watching world.
When Nemanja Matic eventually broke the deadlock, the Chelsea manager engaged in an animated discussion with a couple of stadium lackeys behind the dugout, gesticulating dramatically and pointing four fingers in the air.
He spoke long enough for the camera to catch his amateur dramatics.
His hand signal was clear. The Blues had blundered four times before finally scoring.
For a guy who established his career at Sporting Lisbon as a translator, Mourinho is a master of body language, a firm believer in the art of revealing everything by saying almost nothing.
At the final whistle, he marched across the pitch to shake the hand of Sporting goalkeeper Rui Patrício. Naturally, the cameras followed their charismatic Pied Piper.
He congratulated a Sporting player before one of his own, acknowledging the goalkeeper's man-of-the-match heroics in preventing a rugby score.
His compliments were sincere, but every Mourinho gesture has an ulterior motive.
He was deflecting attention from the woeful wastefulness of his players.
Their erratic finishing forced the exasperated manager to rip up his template and improvise.
Mourinho has referenced Diego Costa's hamstring so many times, we all feel like we could draw a diagram of the Spanish striker's nagging injury.
But Costa completed the game, his second in four days; precisely the kind of physical demand his manager insists his body cannot cope with.
Mourinho appeared eager to rest the most intimidating goal-scoring specimen to wear a Chelsea shirt since Didier Drogba.
But as the misses piled up, every weary shake of the head in the dugout ensured that Costa was going nowhere. Chelsea's extraordinary dominance against a young, naive Sporting side was matched only by their less than ordinary finishing.
From Patricio making the first of many terrific saves to deny Costa in the second minute to the goalkeeper racing clear to block Mohamed Salah in the 93rd minute, Chelsea peppered the penalty box like a tennis training machine spitting balls at a teenage protege.
Andre Schurrle's striking ineptitude defied belief.
Patricio undoubtedly tormented him, but the German's consistent knack of placing his efforts too close to the goalkeeper or wide of the goal entirely was a permanent source of consternation for the open-mouthed Mourinho.
The World Cup winner was by no means the only culprit. The Blues conjured six one-on-one opportunities and somehow conspired to miss them all.
Sporting Lisbon lacked sufficient quality to steal the most undeserved point in Champions League history, but Barcelona and PSG amply demonstrated yesterday that superior sides would punish such profligacy.
Chelsea's inability to kill off the contest forced Mourinho to leave on both Costa and Cesc Fabregas - the two players who were surely earmarked for an early withdrawal ahead of the Arsenal game.
The eternal pragmatist was left with little alternative but to remove his most obvious culprit in Schurrle, swapping him for Willian, before protecting the slender lead by introducing John Obi Mikel.
Mourinho was not amused.
In just over a year, he has achieved what Arsene Wenger is struggling to get close to and what Brendan Rodgers may never get close to again.
The Chelsea manager has designed a squad clearly primed for silverware success, with interchangeable talents ready to slot in to different positions at a moment's notice.
But Sporting Lisbon hinted at the perceptible weakness that can gnaw away at Mourinho's squads, irritating him like an itch he can't quite scratch.
With a lone striker served by inverted wingers and imperious enforcers, goals do not always flow through his side as they often do at Real Madrid, Barcelona or even PSG in the Champions League.
The Blues do not score enough in Europe.
Like a garbage collector, Mourinho must work on his waste management.
By the numbers 100
100: Chelsea captain John Terry (above) made his 100th Champions League appearance against Sporting Lisbon yesterday morning.
15: Total shots made by Chelsea
7: Number of Chelsea shots that were on target
5: Number of Chelsea shots that were off target
3: Number of Chelsea shots that were blocked
"(Goalkeeper) Rui Patrício was outstanding tonight, as usual. He had lots of work today but he is in very good form."
- Sporting Lisbon manager Marco Silva
"We had so many chances, it was one of those nights where it just didn’t go in, but thankfully Matic came up with a good header."
- Chelsea captain John Terry
"At the end I told (Sporting Lisbon goalkeeper) Rui Patrício, ‘You wanted to spoil my night!’ Sporting could have lost by more, but it could have also been a draw. It would have been unfair."
- Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho (below)