Jose Mourinho has spent the last three months talking conspiracies and campaigns, only for referees to remain resolutely unhelpful. The suspensions served by Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic suggested his words might actually be doing Chelsea more harm than good.
Wednesday night began with him getting exactly what he wanted, only to end with his team getting exactly what they deserved.
Chelsea are out of the Champions League and they only have themselves to blame.
Mourinho knows a drum that keeps banging will eventually be heard by someone. The day before this match he suggested that referee Bjorn Kuipers might be wise to look out for Paris Saint-Germain’s “aggression” at Stamford Bridge. The Dutchman took just 31 minutes to oblige in spectacular fashion.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic appeared to have begun pulling out of a challenge he and Oscar had both lunged in for when his shin crashed against that of the Brazilian, who was sent spinning across the turf clutching his leg. That might have explained why Kuipers immediately reached for his top pocket, though the nine – yes, nine – screaming Chelsea players who immediately surrounded him baying for blood might also have had something to do with it.
Throughout the opening half-hour the home side had been noticeably keen to highlight any examples of PSG physicality, with one fairly innocuous-looking foul on Cesc Fabregas prompting Mourinho’s first riled charge from the dugout and word with the fourth official in only the ninth minute.
Ibrahimovic’s dismissal transformed a fairly sedate Stamford Bridge into a cauldron of agitation, with every collision prompting howls of derision from both sides. Oscar might have seen red himself before half-time, when Mourinho wisely replaced him with the calmer Willian.
This is the kind of battlefield Mourinho feels most comfortable when the stakes are at their highest and the opponents at their most talented, with the kind of brazen disregard for aesthetics that once prompted Real Madrid sporting director Jorge Valdano to label the Portuguese’s football philosophy “s**t on a stick”.
But on this occasion it served only to spark something in their opponents.
Chelsea duly took control of possession, though PSG’s sense of grievance refused to let them lie down and accept their fate. The first element of Mourinho’s pre-match plan had worked perfectly but his players were now in limbo.
A man up at home they felt obliged to attack, but an away-goal lead gave them something to lose. Every spell of possession carried with it a whiff of trepidation and had Edinson Cavani not fluffed his lines in front of the Shed End for the second successive year when played clean through with the scores goalless, the Blues might have paid a high price far earlier.
The Chelsea goal, when it came in the 81st minute, was everything the game had deserved: a scrappy, hapless penalty-area scramble from a corner that eventually found its way via Diego Costa’s hip to Gary Cahill, who volleyed in. As at Parc des Princes and against Tottenham at Wembley, the defenders had come up big when it counted; they account for 18 of the Blues’ 82 goals this season.
Once the game became a battle, set-pieces were always likely to make the difference and, for once, it was Chelsea who were left wanting. David Luiz took a break from his niggly running battle with Costa to send the tie into extra-time with a near-post bullet header eerily reminiscent of Didier Drogba’s in the 2012 Champions League final.
His lead gone, Mourinho sent his men to war again, bringing on Drogba for Ramires and ratcheting up Chelsea’s aerial threat. Just six minutes in the bombardment paid off – Drogba preventing Luiz from clearing a cross and Zouma panicking Thiago Silva into a rash handball. Eden Hazard kept his head from the penalty spot on a night when few others even tried to.
But for the second time Mourinho pulled his men back, content to try to defend a lead that never looked secure. It proved to be a mistake, one that means the manager has been eliminated despite securing a score draw away in the first leg for the first in his career. On the four previous occasions he had taken the opposition back to his fortess and triumphed each time, but tonight his battle-weary troops struggled to maintain the fight.
PSG made up for their man disadvantage with the ambition and courage borne of desperation. Courtois was forced into two fine saves from a Luiz free-kick and Silva header, before the visiting captain rose highest again to send a monstrous effort soaring over his head.
After the match, David Luiz summed what impressed him most about his team-mates: “The spirit; every single player gave everything. [Chelsea] scored first, and then everyone looks at each other, looks in their eyes and say ‘You can do it, let’s believe until the end'”.
For once, Mourinho was beaten in the heat of the battle.
He rarely loses when his teams play like this. PSG didn’t beat him – they simply took advantage of the fatal assumption that they ever had to. On previous occasions Chelsea have looked worryingly incapable of “killing” opponents, but on Wednesday they orchestrated their own demise by scarcely showing the inclination to do so.
The exhausted PSG players embraced and saluted their supporters at the final whistle, savouring a night when fortune favoured the brave. Chelsea and Mourinho must watch the rest of the Champions League from afar, licking wounds inflicted by their own pragmatism.