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article imageCareless Chelsea's defensive errors prove costly against PSG

By Tyrrell Meertins     Apr 2, 2014 in Sports
Jose Mourinho’s team selection dominated headlines in PSG's emphatic victory of Chelsea. Matches of this calibre between two elite sides are usually defined by the slimmest margin, but several errors played a factor in Chelsea's defeat.
For the second time this season, Mourinho named Andre Schurrle as his main striker due to Samuel Eto’o’s injury and Fernando Torres’ poor displays against Aston Villa and Crystal Palace. Earlier this season at Old Trafford, Schurrle was instructed to utilize his pace and make runs beyond Manchester United’s centre-backs and into the channels, but the German failed to influence the match.
“I am not happy with my strikers' performances so I have to try things. With Andre at least I know we have one more player to have the ball and to associate with the other players. Even not being dangerous because he's not a striker he can associate and the team can have control of possession like we had,” Mourinho said.
Schurrle, however, didn’t seem to understand his role in Paris, as he made runs into several areas in deep positions, thus leading to Mourinho telling the German where to position himself and make runs. Yet, while Ezequiel Lavezzi’s opening goal handed PSG the lead, Mourinho’s ploy proved to be successful in the opening half. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was contained, Oscar closed down Thiago Motta, Ramires pushed forward to press Marco Verratti, and David Luiz tracked Blaise Matuidi’s runs.
Chelsea’s pressing forced Laurent Blanc’s men to constantly concede possession in their third, but their productivity in advanced areas was dismal. PSG’s complacency also played into Chelsea’s hands as they dropped into a 4-5-1 without the ball, which enabled Mourinho’s men to grow into the match. While Blanc’s decision making could have been down to his fear of Chelsea creating chances on the counter, it inhibited PSG’s threat in attack when Mourinho’s side dropped deeper –– although Lavezzi nearly doubled the French side’s lead when Ibrahimovic’s deft ball played the Argentine winger free on goal.
Blanc’s men were teetering ahead of half-time, but the PSG manager refused to tinker with his squad’s personnel or shape. Put simply, Chelsea was unable to maintain the energy levels that enabled them to pester the French side. Motta and Verratti received more time and space on the ball in midfield, Christophe Jallet surged forward freely at right-back –– Hazard rarely tracked his runs in the first half to begin with –– and with Mourinho’s men tiring, Luiz and Ramires were forced to cover too much ground in midfield due to their lopsided shape.
PSG didn’t create many clear-cut chances throughout the match, but Chelsea struggled upfront, and were equally feeble in defence. All three goals were preventable, and Mourinho wasn’t pleased to see his experienced players make naïve mistakes in a decisive European tie. John Terry’s tame header gift-wrapped Lavezzi’s opener, following Luiz’s giveaway. In the second half, Luiz committed a nonsensical foul on Matuidi that led to Lavezzi delivering a delightful free kick that the Brazilian deflected into the net. And then there was the catastrophic injury-time defending that enabled substitute Javier Pastore to beat Petr Cech at the near post was the icing on the cake.
“You can always
do better but I think the boys gave everything tonight. We've been a bit cautious in the building of our game. We were probably a bit afraid of Chelsea's counterattacks. They are a very powerful team. We made them run, though, and scored that last-gasp goal,” Blanc said.
Surely, Lucas Moura’s pace and direct running, along with Cavani’s curling effort provided scares for the Blues, but Mourinho’s men also drifted into key areas in the final third. Hazard’s poor decision making, and Fernando Torres’ lethargic efforts upfront couldn’t provide Chelsea with an additional away goal.
"I changed it because I thought that Fernando would give us more depth than Andre," Mourinho said. "The team was comfortable with Andre, we had good control of the game and good ball possession. Andre was rocking back and the team was quite comfortable controlling the game.”
But while Chelsea lacked hunger, belief and urgency in their play, Mourinho is equally responsible for his side's downfall. Mourinho is not a tactical genius –– his meticulous approach focuses on organization, defensive solidity, and his players consistently completing specific duties. The Portuguese manager had no alternative approach once his players tired, and Blanc’s men freely retained possession and mounted pressure in Chelsea’s half.
Mourinho can rightfully blame defensive errors and the lack of a top-class striker for his side’s misfortunes this season, but his inability to assess and make modifications when PSG took control was the defining factor. The Blues are capable of overturning their deficit at Stamford Bridge in six days time, but a substantial improvement in Chelsea’s approach and performance levels is required.
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