Mourinho mind games: Chelsea braced for 'aggressive' PSG
The Chelsea manager says his players will need to be protected from Paris St Germain in tonight's Champions League clash
As Chelsea prepare for the biggest match of their season to date, manager Jose Mourinho has labelled opponents Paris St-Germain "aggressive".
The Blues host the French champions at Stamford Bridge three weeks after the sides drew 1-1 in Paris, and though Chelsea are the slight favourites to progress into the Champions League quarter-finals, Mourinho is braced for a torrid encounter.
"This season we have played teams from the Championship, League One and League Two, but the most aggressive team was PSG," he told reporters at the pre-match press conference. Showing he had lost none of his knack for mind games, Mourinho continued: "For a team with so much quality I expected more football [from PSG in the first leg]…. A team with fantastic players was the team making foul after the foul."
Mourinho singled out Chelsea's Eden Hazard as the player who came in for most of the unwanted PSG attention, no doubt hoping tonight's referee will take note, and he gave a tetchy response to the idea that his side had been inferior to PSG last month.
"If to dominate is the number of chances created, yes Paris had more chances than us," he snapped. "If dominating means stopping your opponent from playing, making foul after foul, yes they also dominated."
History is on Chelsea's side for tonight's last-16 match. In last season's Champions League quarter-final, the Blues recovered from a 3-1 defeat in Paris to win 2-0 at the Bridge. Chelsea, who welcome back Nemanja Matic after his ban, are in a rich vein of form with no defeats in their last six matches. But PSG are also in pretty good nick, unbeaten in their last 14 domestic matches and fresh from a resounding 4-1 defeat of Lens at the weekend.
In addition, last season PSG travelled to Chelsea without their influential striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic but he has no injury problems tonight and PSG coach Laurent Blanc indulged in some psychological warfare of his own when asked if he thought Chelsea defenders Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma might struggle to contain the giant Swede. "I don't think those two players are going to be happy about facing Zlatan," Blanc said. "He's someone who loves the big occasion. He's a player who can score at any time, in any venue, against any opponent. I hope he shows that on Wednesday night."
And Blanc, eager to prove he can match Mourinho in needling opponents, singled out Chelsea striker Diego Costa as the man PSG would have to watch closely.
"He likes contact, and provokes opposition players. That's part of his game," said Blanc of a player who was banned for three matches in January for stamping on Liverpool's Emre Can. The most important thing is to not get caught up in the way he plays. He will try to provoke a reaction. We need to stay calm, not get caught up in his game. We need to be as effective as possible in stopping him."
Chelsea's record at home to French teams is impressive, with the Blues keeping five clean sheets in six matches (a 2-2 draw to Monaco in 2003-04 being the exception) and the English side will surely look to keep it tight at the back and hit PSG on the counter.
"One of Chelsea's main weapons is that they are good on the counterattack, so we can't go gung-ho," explained Blanc. "We have to be solid and take our chances. I hope we do better than Chelsea did in the first leg, where Chelsea created only one chance and scored from that."
Another low blow from Blanc, and it's unlikely to be the last between the two coaches on a night when there is so much at stake.