Mourinho rewarded for big decisions; Bayern stagnating under Pep
Mourinho's trust in his young keeper over his long-standing number one proved to be a very good decision
There was nothing vintage about Chelsea's performance in Paris on Tuesday evening, but more a semblance of shrewdness and know-how of big pressure situations.
Despite turning in a stellar performance against Everton last week, long-serving Petr Cech was demoted to the bench and replaced by Belgian Thibaut Courtois whose performance has earned widespread acclaim in the aftermath of the 1-1 draw in Paris.
The 22-year-old conjured up a string of outstanding saves and was a commanding presence behind Chelsea's back-four who were largely under the onslaught of the Parisians for long spells in the match on Wednesday.
"If football was about having nine outfield players plus two goalkeepers, we would give no chance to anyone,” Mourinho told reporters after the game. “We would be absolutely phenomenal because they’re both phenomenal.”
Yet, despite his tender age, Courtois has attained vast experience at the highest level with two seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid where he became instrumental in the recent success under Diego Simeone.
The Belgian international - Chelsea signed him from Genk in 2011 – was immediately shipped on loan to Atletico and had success in the Europa League before Simeone’s went on to reach the Champions League final and the Spanish championship. He played over 100 times during his loan spell in Spain.
But Mourinho was faced with dilemma when he had two top class keepers on the books this summer – Cech’s 11-year monopoly of the goalkeeping gloves at Chelsea has terminally come to an end with the return of the Belgian.
“What amazes me is that Courtois, despite his height, is still very quick,” uttered PSG coach Laurent Blanc who watched the keeper deny the Parisians on several occasions. “I watched the two headers he saved from Ibrahimovic and he moves so quickly on his feet to react to both of them. He’s one of the top goalkeepers in the world."
Putting trust in his young keeper over his long-standing number one proved to be a very good decision in the end, with Courtois largely credited for keeping Chelsea in control of this Champions League encounter.
Where are Bayern heading?
The opposite could be said for Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich - the 0-0 draw in Lviv against Shakhtar leaving the Last 16 tie in the balance when the Ukrainians come to Munich in March.
With Robert Lewandowski left on the bench, the Bavarians were toothless in attack, lacking any structural cohesion between the front-four of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Mario Götze and Thomas Müller.
Meanwhile, problems remain in midfield selections with Bastian Schweinsteiger looking off-the-pace and Xabi Alonso - who was sent off in the match and will be suspended for the second leg - lacking purpose.
Bayern's performances since the restart of the domestic season have failed to match the rampant form of the opening half of the season. Comparisons have rightly been drawn with last season when, with the title practically won by the winter, Bayern's lack of momentum and frequent tactical switches came back to haunt them in the Champions League.
Guardiola has been keen to avoid a repeat of last season, especially considering his tenure will be defined by his success, or therein lack of, in the Champions League; losing momentum is, frankly, not an option for the Bavarians.
Yet, the signs aren’t pointing towards a Bayern team that has yet to hit peak form: the 8-0 win over Hamburg was masked by the shoddy defending of the visitors and the 2-0 win at Stuttgart carved out of two spectacular moments of individual brilliance.
The Spanish coach has resurrected the back-three that emerged at the beginning of the season with normally Xabi Alonso acting, at times, as a third centre-back considering the large amounts of possession that Bayern inevitably will see domestically.
What is interesting about the move to the Champions League is that Alonso and Schweinsteiger tend to stick to regimented midfield roles, while David Alaba or Rafinha tuck towards the three defensive positions.
But it’s this instability that has really led to a lack of purpose in the team. You get the impression that Bayern aren’t quite sure what to do, what their strongest team is, and the best way to break down the opposition.
Results are important, but not everything – the process of getting there is just as important, and will especially highlight Bayern’s capabilities when they step into European competition.