Double jeopardy for losers of Chelsea-PSG tie
ROUND OF 16, 1ST LEG
PSG v CHELSEA
(Tomorrow, 3.40am, Singtel TV Ch 111)
Jose Mourinho's forked tongue rarely shows mercy. He abuses freely. He mocks others almost weekly.
When he put down Arsene Wenger, he called him a specialist in failure.
His vicious comments were cutting. The Chelsea manager lives by the sword. He could die by the sword in the Champions League against Paris St Germain tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
The sack doesn't await Mourinho if the Blues are bundled out at the last-16 stage, but humiliation almost certainly does.
He risks being a victim not of his own success, but his uncensored mouth.
Calling Wenger a specialist in failure was as saucy as it was shortsighted. Wenger won a trophy last season. Mourinho didn't.
More crucially, he hasn't won the Champions League since 2010. The period of five years is a blip for most managers. For Mourinho, it's a lifetime - a stubborn stain that sticks to his otherwise unblemished record.
Special ones are judged by special criteria. By his own measure, Mourinho stands alone. Roman Abramovich judges him accordingly.
He won a couple of Champions Leagues with two different clubs. But his former clubs - Chelsea and Real Madrid - both won the tournament only when he left.
For Mourinho, five years make it a drought. He has a point to prove. Publicly, he plays mind games with "little horses" and coaching cliches. Privately, history eats away at his voracious ambition.
No coach has won three Champions Leagues with three different clubs before. The distance between immortality and ridicule could be two games, these two games against PSG.
A Premier League title will hold off Abramovich in the short term, but it will not satiate the Russian's desire for continental supremacy. He brought back the petulant Portuguese braggart to sit at Europe's top table, not to prevail in humdrum domestic campaigns.
There are other managers available to do that.
Abramovich still covets that rare alchemy created by mixing ruthlessness with romance. Mourinho put the beast back into the Blues, but not the beauty.
In recent weeks, Chelsea have churned out results like a robotic farmer. They are producing, but there is the risk of the product curdling. At times, the Blues are boring.
The Champions League offers an elixir for both club and manager, a chance to breath life into a sagging campaign.
If that sounds crazy, considering Chelsea's trophy charge on three fronts, check Abramovich's track record. It's pockmarked with crazy decisions.
An early exit won't kill off Mourinho, but it will raise difficult questions. They will come from his paymaster. The "specialist in failure" tag was a stick to beat others. It may become a ball and chain.
Laurent Blanc, on the other hand, faces no such uncertainty. If PSG go out to Chelsea - as they did last season in the quarter-finals - he will be sacked at the end of the season.
The PSG boardroom might be the only place in the world right now with no shades of grey. It's a black-and-white investment. The Qatar Sports Investments group bought in to buy international prestige.
That comes only with winning the Champions League, not the Ligue 1 crown.
For the Qatari owners, there was no Abramovich-like epiphany, no mythical match that won them over to the glory game. A wealthy, celebrity-stuffed club with a Champions League collection delivers priceless PR.
A club that falter in the knock-out stage is a tiresome strain on resources, a lavish waste of petrodollars.
Blanc was already on borrowed time. Lose against Chelsea and the countdown clock starts ticking.
The French playing legend was never the first choice among owners whose diminished powers of patience leave Abramovich looking like a monkish figure of restraint.
The Qataris will continue to throw money around in the hope that some of it will stick on the gleaming Champions League trophy. The odds are against them.
They are still caught in the hypnotic glare of celebrity footballers. Mourinho just focuses on footballers, demonstrated by Chelsea's astonishing feat in getting £48 million ($100m) for the erratic David Luiz.
While the Blues have clearly improved since their last meeting, PSG have stagnated. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a year older and still struggling with a stubborn virus and the Parisian side face a sudden injury crisis.
Blaise Matuidi, such an influential figure for France at the World Cup, has a knee injury that robs Blanc of his galloping gazelle in midfield, while Yohan Cabaye's groin tweak removes the attacking thrust behind Ibrahimovic.
But Mourinho welcomes Diego Costa back from suspension. Juan Cuadrado is also eligible to join a line-up well rested after getting the FA Cup weekend off.
Even with the first leg in Paris, Chelsea have the edge in a must-win tie.
A defeat almost certainly earns Blanc the boot.
If Mourinho loses, the world will be queuing up to stick the boot in.
LAURENT BLANC’S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RECORD THIS SEASON
- Games played: 6
- Won: 4
- Drew: 1
- Lost: 1
- Goals scored: 10
- Goals conceded: 7
JOSE MOURINHO’S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RECORD THIS SEASON
- Games played: 6
- Won: 4
- Drew: 2
- Lost: 0
- Goals scored: 17
- Goals conceded: 3
Both are ugly.
- PSG defender David Luiz, when asked to compare PSG boss Laurent Blanc and Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho
BY THE NUMBERS
This is the second time that PSG and Chelsea will meet in the knock-out stages of the Champions League. Last year, the Blues edged out the Parisian side on away goals in the quarter-finals.
Luiz eyeing Blues scalp
- PHOTO: AFP
David Luiz hopes to finish on the winning side once again in a Champions League tie between Paris St Germain and Chelsea, after swopping London for the French capital.
The Brazil defender made a £48 million ($100m) switch to Paris last summer, after helping Chelsea to a Champions League quarter-final victory over PSG.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) Round-of-16 first leg at Parc des Princes, Luiz said: "I want to qualify, like I qualified last year, but I want to qualify for PSG. I will do everything to win."
Luiz was on the scoresheet in Chelsea's 3-1 first-leg loss last term, although it was an own-goal.
"Last year I scored my first goal for PSG," he said, before adding: "If I score against Chelsea, I won't celebrate for respect, but I will be happy."
Luiz, who won the Champions League in 2012 and Europa League the following year while at Stamford Bridge, is a relaxed character and was not concerned by the price paid for him.
"It's not for me to talk about the price or things like that," he said.
"I just need to show my football every day and show my job for the club."
The fee helped Chelsea in their purchases of Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Filipe Luis, strengthening Jose Mourinho's side, according to Luiz.
"They had three players join the club with amazing quality, like Fabregas and Diego. For me, they are stronger than last year," he said.
Chelsea will have striker Costa back from suspension, but Luiz's fellow defender Thiago Silva is not worried.
The Brazil defender also claims he could never switch countries and play for someone else like Costa has done for Spain.
"Costa is one of the top strikers in Europe at the moment. He can play, but he can do battle as well," Silva said.
"That is no problem, that is the reason you want to play at this level - to do battle against the best players in the world.
"He is the sort of player who lets you know he is there, but we will also let him know that we are there.
"We know Diego chose to play for Spain and there is nothing more to be said about the subject.
"I am not sure that I could choose to play for a nation other than the one I grew up in, but neither myself or anybody else has any right to judge his decision.
"He chose Spain, and we all have to respect his choice."
But Silva insists that he and Luiz form one of the best partnerships in Europe.
"When we signed David from Chelsea, we were not just signing one of the best central defenders in the world, but also one of my best friends." - Wire Services.