Paris: Jose Mourinho has ruled his Chelsea side out of the Premier League title race, but he believes they will bounce back from domestic disappointment against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday.
The Chelsea manager questioned his players’ mentality after a surprise 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace led to them being knocked off top spot in the Premier League by Liverpool.
Mourinho loves to play mind games, but with Manchester City poised to leapfrog the Blues by winning their games in hand, it may be true that Chelsea’s best chance of silverware now lies with the Champions League.
The Portuguese insists that his team will rise to the occasion as they face the Ligue 1 champions-elect at the Parc des Princes in the first leg of their quarter-final tie.
“Paris is the kind of match they feel comfortable to play,” said Mourinho ahead of the trip to the French capital. “A big match, great stadium, opponents with top quality.”
Despite that, he says the tie is finely poised, with PSG having emerged as a leading continental force in the last two years, spending astronomical sums to attract the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Brazil captain Thiago Silva to France.
“They have some of the best players in the world playing together in the same team, so they are a very powerful team,” Mourinho said of a side who lost on away goals to Barcelona at the same stage last season.
“They are big, big, big candidates.”
While Mourinho is driven by the desire to become the first coach to win the European Cup with three different clubs following previous triumphs with Porto in 2004 and Inter in 2010, Ibrahimovic is still aiming to win the greatest prize in club football for the first time.
But, at the age of 32, the Swede seems to have belatedly reached his prime, with his tally of 40 goals in all competitions this season breaking the PSG club record.
If the consensus in England seems to be that Ibrahimovic always disappoints at the highest level, Mourinho, who coached the maverick striker at Inter in 2008/09, thinks rather differently.
“I only coached him for a year but it was a good year, a good experience and I rate him as one of the best players I have ever coached,” he said.
PSG have not lost in 28 home European games and are currently on a club record-breaking run of nine straight wins in all competitions. They are running away with the Ligue 1 title and come into April 13 points clear of nearest challengers Monaco.
They were some way short of their best in Friday’s 1-0 win at Nice, but coach Laurent Blanc admits that thoughts were already on Tuesday night.
“We can say that the players were already thinking about Chelsea,” said Blanc, who was a player at Barcelona in the late 1990s when Mourinho was on the staff at the Camp Nou. “On Wednesday we will need to do better in the final third.
“The best preparation [for Chelsea] was to win and, while we didn’t play brilliantly against Nice, we got the result. Sometimes there are games like that.”
Blanc will hope that his side are able to raise their game against the London club as PSG seek to live up to the sky-high expectations surrounding them inside France, where there is a growing belief that they can go all the way and lift the trophy in Lisbon in May.
Just as Chelsea were transformed after being taken over by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich a decade ago, the arrival of Qatar Sports Investments has made PSG capable of competing with Europe’s very best, and the squad stand to earn a bonus of €1 million (Dh5.06 million) per man if they win the trophy.
Silva will sport a mask to protect a fractured cheekbone, but Gregory van der Wiel is unlikely to play due to a nagging knee problem so Christophe Jallet is set to play at right-back. For Chelsea, Mourinho has said he expects Samuel Eto’o to miss the game because of a hamstring injury and Nemanja Matic is ineligible.
Paris Saint-Germain vs Chelsea
Quarter-final first leg at Parc des Princes — Wednesday, 10.45pm UAE; live telecast on beIN Sports HD 2, 4 & 11
Paris Saint-Germain – Laurent Blanc (FRA) 48 yrs
Chelsea – Jose Mourinho (POR) – 51 yrs
Leading scorers in all competitions:
Paris Saint-Germain – Zlatan Ibrahimovic (40 goals)
Chelsea – Eden Hazard (15 goals)
Domestic league performance:
Paris Saint-Germain – Top of Ligue 1, 13 points clear of Monaco with seven games left
Chelsea – Second in the Premier League, two points behind leaders Liverpool with six games left
Path to the quarter-finals:
Paris Saint-Germain – Winners of Group C ahead of Olympiakos; Beat Bayer Leverkusen 6-1 on aggregate in last 16
Chelsea – Winners of Group E ahead of Schalke 04; Beat Galatasaray 3-1 on aggregate in last 16
European Cup/Champions League best performances:
Paris Saint-Germain – semi-finals 1994/95
Chelsea – winners 2012
Chelsea 0-0 Paris Saint-Germain – 2004/05 group stage
Paris Saint-Germain 0-3 Chelsea – 2004/05 group stage