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article imageJose Mourinho's second half changes steer Chelsea past PSG

By Tyrrell Meertins     Apr 8, 2014 in Sports
In a poor contest between two prestigious European giants, Jose Mourinho’s attack-minded substitutions reaped rewards as Chelsea advanced to the Champions League semi-finals.
While neither the score nor the victor was predictable prior to kick-off, it was certain that history would be made at Stamford Bridge. Paris Saint-Germain was aiming to reach the semi-finals for the first time in their club’s history, whereas Mourinho had never been eliminated at the quarter-final stage.
There was no surprise in either XI; Frank Lampard stepped into midfield for the suspended Ramires, while Lucas Moura joined the PSG attack for the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The onus was on Chelsea to take the game to the French champions due to their setback in the first leg, but there was nothing convincing about their approach. Despite controlling possession in PSG’s half, Mourinho’s men struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities. When Blanc’s men pressed higher up the pitch in the opening minutes, Chelsea found space to exploit on the break, but they often lacked sufficient support, and a final ball.
Similarly, when the away side dropped into a 4-5-1 without the ball, Chelsea still lacked ideas. The need for a ball-playing midfielder, and a deep-lying playmaker has never been so evident, as fluidity, invention, and creativity in central areas were non-existent. Ezequiel Lavezzi and Moura’s discipline in wide areas negated Chelsea’s full-backs attacking threat, and contributed to their languid buildup play.
On the contrary, Blanc’s midfield trio comfortably retained possession in the first half. Mourinho insisted on straying away from pressing Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta, and PSG’s front six easily drifted into pockets of space in central areas to receive the ball. However, despite Chelsea’s quirky shape without the ball, there was no distinct conviction in PSG’s play, and Petr Cech was merely a spectator.
Frank Lampard and Luiz forced Salvatore Sirigu to make first half saves, but it was Chelsea’s direct approach that profoundly humbled Blanc’s men. Substitute Andre Schurrle pounced on Luiz’s flick on from a Branislav Ivanovic long throw, and Lampard’s 36th minute free-kick presented Gary Cahill with an opportunity to double Chelsea’s lead, but he squandered a loose ball from six-yards out.
Chelsea continued to push forward in the second half, but apart from Oscar and Schurrle’s efforts smashing off the crossbar, their laboured attacks posed no threat to the away side’s back-line. The Blues were 24 minutes away from elimination.
Typically, Mourinho replaces his shortest defender for an attacker, but here he summoned Lampard –– who in fairness was booked –– for Demba Ba. Immediately, the Senegalese striker was Chelsea’s main focal point, and his flicked on ball into the path of the advancing Schurrle forced Sirigu to make a key save.
Ba’s introduction saw Oscar, Willian and Schurrle play behind the Chelsea strikers, while David Luiz protected his back-line as the single-pivot. Ultimately, this freed up space for PSG to exploit in transition, and finally pose a threat in Chelsea's third. On two separate occasions, balls from Blaise Matuidi, and substitute Yohan Cabaye played Edinson Cavani free on goal, but the Uruguayan blasted his efforts over the bar. Subsequently, PSG strung together a few passes within Chelsea’s third before Moura fired an effort directly at Cech.
Mourinho’s men were teetering, and once again the Portuguese manager turned to his bench, this time introducing Fernando Torres for the weary Oscar.
"We risked everything," Mourinho said. "Demba, Nando and Eto'o all played together and we tried to play direct because our midfield were really tired and broken, but also because Paris were in that situation and we know that they are not adapted to this kind of football.”
Blanc countered Mourinho’s move by introducing a third centre-back in Marquinhos to cope with Chelsea’s attack. While the pattern of the match remained, PSG were now looking to protect the result. Within two minutes of the Brazilian centre-backs introduction, Ba fortuitously directed Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross past Sirigu, thus ending PSG’s European dream.
“There are a number of things that didn't work tonight and a number that did,” Blanc said. “The [first] goal came against the run of play and that gave Chelsea belief. I thought we might have scored on the counterattack but we were not able to. Chelsea kept believing and in the end they were rewarded.”
Mourinho’s second half substitutions increased Chelsea’s attacking options, yet Cavani’s missed opportunities exemplify the risk the Portuguese manager took.
Although Chelsea’s display was subdued, the Blues admirably stuck to their game plan, whereas it’s uncertain as to whether Blanc had one assembled.
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