Chelsea were mugged in Paris, but it remains difficult to ascertain who was the main victim left for dead at the crime scene. Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final was a wretched evening that spawned several casualties. All may already be lost for Jose Mourinho’s side such was the mental havoc these sorry goings on wrought.
But who was left most confused, dazed and traumatised by the nature of the psychological scarring?
Was it Fernando Torres, a dispossessed striker who was brutally cast aside at the Parc des Princes for one of the club’s prime matches of the season despite an injury to Samuel Eto’o beforehand?
Was it the young German winger Andre Schuerrle, whose unease at trying to play the role of a ‘false nine’ was so obvious that he needed to be reminded by Mourinho what he was doing during a shambolic 59 minutes on the park? A lone striker, he cut a lonely figure before being ejected, not appearing to know what his commission was.
Or was Mourinho himself a victim of circumstance? Here is a coach who has lost so much faith in the strikers available to him that he found the need to go without a leading man for a match in which Chelsea will scratch their heads and wonder how they finally succumbed to a 3-1 loss.
Demba Ba’s days at Stamford Bridge are surely heading for some sort of closure after he was left looking on from the visiting technical area, but it is difficult to escape from the conclusion that poor old Fernando was the night’s biggest loser.
The Spain forward’s record in Europe is far from rotten. Prior to visiting Paris, he had scored four times in six games for Chelsea in continental competition this season. Or six in nine if you include the semi-finals and final when the London side snared the Europa League trophy last May.
Torres was allowed around 30 minutes on the pitch after Schuerrle was given the chance of a lie down, but he must be bereft of any semblance of self-worth when he knows his coach is not convinced of his qualities on such nights. It says enough that Schuerrle could have gone for a nap on the pitch rather than introduce Torres. It would not have made any difference to the outcome.
The runs and movement that prompted Chelsea to pay £50 million to Liverpool for him back in January 2011 have long since gone. He is a ghost in a football shirt, a man running around a park without any degree of certainly of his purpose. His place in Spain’s World Cup squad for Brazil must be in real jeopardy.
Spanish national coach Vicente del Bosque already likes a 'false nine' rather than playing with a false striker which Torres has come to represent.
Chelsea must surely rue wrong turnings in their recent transfer dealings that threaten to torpedo their pursuit of the Premier League and Champions League. It is decisions taken not just this season, but in previous campaigns that have prompted Mourinho’s angst.
Mistakes have been made including his misplaced faith in Torres. Romelu Lukaku with his 15 goals in 31 outings should never have been loaned to an Everton side the young Belgian forward has assisted in challenging Arsenal for fourth place and Champions League qualification.
Daniel Sturridge should never have been sold to Liverpool for £12 million just over a year ago. The England forward has wallowed in 25 goals from 32 matches this season with more to come. You don’t need to be Columbo to work out who landed the better deal when Torres and Sturridge swapped locales.
If the quarter-final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich on Tuesday represented old money, and football’s old world order, the coming together of PSG and Chelsea was very much new money. But there is new money. And then there is newer money.
Roman Abramovich’s funding of Chelsea since around 2003 looks slightly less chaotic when you see what Qatar’s petrodollars have foisted upon the PSG coach Laurent Blanc. Mourinho must have looked across his technical area towards Blanc with envious glances.
If Chelsea want to see where they are short, they need only study the attacking threat of the hundreds of millions of Euros lavished upon signings like Ezequiel Lavezzi, Edinson Cavani, Javier Pastore, Lucas Moura and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to see what they are missing out on.
Man for man in defence and midfield, there was not much between these sides, but there is a chasm in the attacking riches available to PSG. Ibrahimovic, or Cavani come to think of it, did very little of note. Zlatan departed with a hamstring strain midway through the second half that will surely see him miss the second leg in London on Tuesday, but it says enough that he was not a huge loss to Parisian hopes.
PSG were still giving off a youthful brio deep into stoppage time while Chelsea were too busy self-harming in allowing themselves to be cornered before the second leg.
John Terry’s poor attempt at a clearing header enabled Lavezzi time and space to bury the opening goal on three minutes. Lavezzi’s wicked free-kick that came off Luiz for the second goal was only made possible by the Brazilian defender’s unnecessary tackle on Blaise Matuidi while quite how Pastore managed to glide past three Chelsea players from next to a corner flag before sending a shot under Petr Cech in stoppage time was truly inexplicable.
This all had shades of Claudio Ranieri’s loss to Monaco in the semi-finals of the 2004 Champions League when Mourinho was carrying off the trophy as Porto coach.
Elsewhere, as if to confirm a general stench overriding proceedings, there was also the old school spectre of Chelsea fans making Nazi salutes and rioting in Paris city centre. So much for the Chelsea brand suddenly being a preserve of the upwardly mobile. Old habits die hard.
But the football match unearthed other truths. Some will question Mourinho’s ability to motivate when the heat comes on. He fell out with several of a Real Madrid squad who suddenly look well balanced under Carlo Ancelotti.
And he seems to have snuffed out any lingering flame in Torres that Rafael Benitez seemed to keep flickering in the death throes of last season.
The cynical will claim Torres’ relationship with Mourinho’s nemesis in the form of Benitez has not worked in the player’s favour. Whatever, it is too far gone now to resuscitate his career at Stamford Bridge. The Torres project is surely at an end. Nine goals from 33 in all competitions would be trotted out in Jose's defence.
To highlight Mourinho's justifiable discontent, Chelsea did not manage a shot on target after Eden Hazard scored a penalty to restore parity at half-time.
How much would Torres fetch on the open market?
There will be some manager out there who will think they can bring him back like Lazarus from football's living dead. Inter apparently want to offer Torres a way out, but a bidding war would surely encourage nobody to spend more than £10m on a player, 30, who is suddenly noticeable only by a lack of goals, loss of paint-stripping pace and shorn of his once mystical swagger.
- Sports & Recreation
- Fernando Torres
- Jose Mourinho
- Ezequiel Lavezzi