It was expected to be a walk-over of sorts for Chelsea against Slovenian champions Maribor in the return leg of the Champions League group stage match. Instead, it turned into a hard-fought, feisty affair with the home side showing they are no pushovers and the visitors guilty of complacency.
Speaking to press after the 1-1 draw that sees Chelsea confirm second place in their group, Mourinho pointed to the lack of urgency shown by his players in a match many expected to be an easy ride for the Blues following their 6-0 mauling of the same opposition two weeks back.
“We played very slowly, no intensity, no creativity, in the first half,” said Mourinho.
“It 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 … I would not say ‘committed’ but not ‘fully focused’.
The home side controlled the game in the first half, and although both sides went in 0-0 at halftime, it was Maribor that broke the deadlock through Agim Ibraimi’s majestic curling strike in the 50th minute.
As Mourinho pointed out, that goal served as a bolt from the blue for his players, who then rose to the occasion and started playing in the manner that has seen them remain unbeaten in all competitions this season.
“When they believe the game can’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. “
Chelsea piled on the pressure in the last quarter of the game, and a John Terry header was poked in by Nemanja Matic in the 73rd minute to restore parity in the match.
Chelsea then showcased their class and came very close to grabbing a well-deserved winner, only for Diego Costa’s strike to be disallowed by the offside flag. The decision seemed to grate with Mourinho, who nonetheless chose not to vent his frustration at the referee’s decision, something that he has been punished for in the past.
“But football is football. People who give everything, like Maribor, deserve a bit of luck. They fought. They had a fantastic goalkeeper. And the referee’s team … didn’t have a good night.”
Eden Hazard was guilty of missing a late penalty, but it was also an equally good save from Handanovic, who had an excellent game. Overall, the draw was a fair result, but questions will be raised over the Chelsea team’s temperament, with the side clearly guilty of complacency in the first half.
Mourinho accepted responsibility for the performance, and admitted that his message had not gotten across to the players.
“I was conscious of it a bit before the game, but I was not successful in passing over that message,” added Mourinho. “If I cannot convince the players that the game is difficult and you have to play from minute one, obviously it’s my responsibility.”