CHELSEA remain unbeaten but what once was an irrepressible rhythm has been checked. There were long periods of this display which were desperately unimpressive against a team put to the sword a fortnight ago and the memories with which the Premier League leaders left Slovenia were more of a rare Eden Hazard penalty miss, an undeniably sloppy performance and even a show of dissatisfaction by the travelling support which clearly went unappreciated by those in the visitorsâ€™ dug-out. The mood music is not quite as positive.
JosÃ© Mourinhoâ€™s post-match demeanour suggested as much. The chants bellowed by the 640 away fans just before the interval â€š â€œJosÃ©, give us a songâ€ and â€œSing up Mourinhoâ€ harked back to the managerâ€™s criticisms of the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge during the derby against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday and, even if the chorus was tongue in cheek, the point had been made. The issue was apparently not up for discussion afterwards. â€œForget it,â€ said Mourinho dismissively. More troubling for him was the complacency he had sensed in his players throughout the first period, an attitude he could not eradicate at source.
He suggested this was a managerial failing, though his squad will surely have been left feeling culpable. â€œWe played very slowly, no intensity, no creativity, in the first half,â€ said Mourinho. â€œIt was easy for Maribor to control the game and reach what they wanted to reach, a 0-0. In the second we played very well but they scored. Players are players. Many, many times surprises happen when people are not â€¦ I would not say â€˜committedâ€™ but not â€˜fully focusedâ€™. When they believe the game canâ€™t be a difficult one. Only when Maribor scored did the players realise the game was in danger. After that there was a fantastic reaction. We deserved to win, clearly. But football is football. People who give everything, like Maribor, deserve a bit of luck. They fought. They had a fantastic goalkeeper. And the refereeâ€™s team â€¦ didnâ€™t have a good night.â€
That was a reference to the Italian officialsâ€™ decision to rule out a Diego Costa goal for offside in the frenetic period after Nemanja Matic had restored parity, lumbering into the six-yard box to convert John Terryâ€™s header from a corner from virtually on the goalline. Mourinho had been banned for a game and fined Â£13,500 back in 2009 for protesting a decision made by Daniele Orsato when he was manager of Internazionale, the second of two occasions when he had been sent to the stands by this official. Regardless, the offside flag was an oversight amid the visitorsâ€™ late pressure, with Costa having been flung on at the interval along with Oscar, to be joined by another Brazilian-born player in Ramires before the hour. The changes reflected desperation. Chelsea may still top the group but, given the nature of that 6-0 win over these opponents last month, this was an opportunity missed.
Not that the home side deserved anything less than the point they celebrated with gusto at the final whistle. Where they had initially felt vulnerable, scarred by those experiences in south-west London two weeks ago, they grew into the contest with Chelsea increasingly flummoxed by an inability to score early. From blanket possession the visitorsâ€™ concentration wavered.
Sintayehu Sallalichâ€™s bursts offered the home side hope and Kurt Zouma had to clear a first-half shot from the goalline. Pepped by their increasingly impressive display, Maribor eventually chiselled out a lead when Mitja Vilerâ€™s deep cross found Agim Ibraimi unmarked in the corner of the penalty area. He curled a delightful shot over Petr Cech and into the corner and Chelsea were behind for the first time since 13 September.
Aleksander Rajcevic and, more critically, Luka Zahovic should even have extended that lead but the teenage striker skied over the bar from inside the six-yard box and the visitors were spared their humiliation. Matic prodded them level, Jasmin Handanovic did wonderfully well to deny Hazard and Costa before the Belgian was tripped by Vilerâ€™s planted leg. The penalty offered an opportunity to claim the tie, though Hazardâ€™s attempt was weak and easily blocked by the goalkeeper.
Given the accusations of complacency, Chelsea probably did not merit morethan a stalemate. â€œI was conscious of it a bit before the game, but I was not successful in passing over that message,â€ added Mourinho. â€œIf I cannot convincethe players that the game is difficult and you have to play from minute one, obviously itâ€™s my responsibility.â€ That is a concern before a trip to an underperforming Liverpool side on Saturday lunchtime. As for the Champions League, qualification for the knockout stages will have to wait. – The Guardian