Breaking Down Chelsea's Champions League Chances Halfway Through Group Stage

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2015

KIEV, UKRAINE - OCTOBER 20:  Jose Mourinho of Chelsea looks on prior to kick off during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between FC Dynamo Kyiv and Chelsea at the Olympic Stadium on October 20, 2015 in Kiev, Ukraine.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Jose Mourinho has been sound-biting this week.

As is customary with the Chelsea boss, he hasn't been too far from the headlines. He's criticised referees (again!) and has also suggested his struggling team is capable of claiming an unprecedented quadruple in 2015/16.

"We can win all four [competitions], or we can lose all four," he said ahead of Chelsea's goalless draw with Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday.

"I think it is possible, but I think it’s also possible to lose all four. Everything is open. We are in October."

Regardless of what month we're in, so poor has Chelsea's start to the campaign been that we can all but write off the Premier League.

Despite it being so early, Mourinho's men have left themselves too much to do. The 10-point gap between themselves and Manchester City right now means that the margin for error is virtually zero.

Plenty can happen between now and May, yet it would be naive in the extreme to suggest Chelsea will be free of anymore frustrating weekends, such has their season been.

They've looked too frail—physically and mentally—and there's nothing like the added pressure of needing to win every game to amplify those weaknesses.

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Europe offers a reprieve, though.

Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press

We saw in 2011/12, when things didn't go too well domestically, that Chelsea were galvanised on the continent.

Despite the Champions League group stage being a mini league, at its very core, it is a cup competition. That means knockout football, matchups played over two legs and not an entire 38-game season.

It becomes a game of wits, who can best react to situations over 180 minutes; which team can snatch a goal and hold its nerve enough to prevent the other from scoring.

That levels the playing field significantly, which is why we get cup upsets. Suddenly it's all about that one moment for every team. What happened the week before counts for little, just as what happens the week after is meaningless.

When Chelsea became London's first European champions in 2012, that was a major factor.

Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press

If teams can master a short-term strategy, then the world, or Europe, in this instance, is its oyster.

Which is why Mourinho and his players should be feeling confident about their chances in the Champions League this term.

Before the Kiev draw, that may not have been the case. But as Chelsea grafted and came away with the result, it was the eureka moment their season needed.

We saw they haven't lost that knack for getting results when they need them.

When things went wrong so early in the Premier League—especially when Chelsea were thumped 3-0 by Manchester City—Mourinho panicked; his players panicked; the club panicked.

We saw it in the transfer market, with Pedro and Baba Rahman rapidly signed; we saw it in Mourinho's tactics, as he struggled with selections.

Everything was erratic. John Terry played one week, then was dropped the next; Kenedy replaced Cesar Azpilicueta at left-back late on against Crystal Palace; Mourinho tried to play a higher defensive line to win matches early.

Mourinho was chasing games because he was chasing points.

Frank Augstein/Associated Press

It wasn't Chelsea, and the players knew it. They were being asked to play in a way that has been alien to the club since the brief reign of Andre Villas-Boas.

Indeed, Mourinho was completely out of sorts in general.

After victory against Aston Villa last weekend, the Kiev result confirmed it. Mourinho has unashamedly returned to the fundamentals of his philosophy: Defend first, score later.

That's good news for Chelsea's Champions League ambitions.

What a draw in Kiev gave Chelsea was the platform to get out of Group G. They suffered a setback when losing to Porto on Matchday 2, but rather than chasing three points to make up for that, Mourinho played cup football against Dynamo.

A draw was good enough in Ukraine. Despite having chances to come away with something better—Chelsea twice struck the woodwork, while Cesc Fabregas should have been awarded a penalty—the manager was happy.

"The performance was solid, and that only happens when the team is OK," Mourinho commented after.

Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press

"We had control of the game for 70, 75 minutes, We had control, initiative, chances, we hit the post, we had the penalty, we had everything, but we didn’t score. ... The result in the end is acceptable."

With a 10-point gap between them and leaders City, it wouldn't have been so in the Premier League.

It's different in Europe, even though Porto extended their lead over Chelsea to three points when they beat Maccabi Tel-Aviv, 2-0.

Now Chelsea play Kiev and Porto at home, knowing two victories will get them through. Their fate resides firmly with them, and it will throughout the rest of the competition.

Mourinho and his players aren't sitting around worried what Barcelona are doing or whether or not Bayern Munich avenge their loss to Arsenal in a fortnight.

Those results elsewhere are not their concern, which means that Mourinho plays the games that are in front of him, like we saw in Kiev.

A win would have been a bonus on Tuesday, but Mourinho got exactly what he wanted.

KIEV, UKRAINE - OCTOBER 20:  Cesc Fabregas of Chelsea in action during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between FC Dynamo Kyiv and Chelsea at the Olympic Stadium on October 20, 2015 in Kiev, Ukraine.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

The teams Chelsea will potentially face along the way in the Champions League, if they are to reach the end of the road in Milan, will be infinitely more intimidating than those they'll face every week at home.

It will be the cream of Europe's crop, yet it won't matter.

Chelsea are best when they're compact and not chasing. They're best when fooling teams to show a little too much of their hand before they oblige to step in and punish them.

There are few—if any teams—better than them at throwing those counterpunches, which is why things are looking up for them in the Champions League.

Whether or not Chelsea play the most attractive football isn't the question. It's whether or not they play the most effective.

Mourinho's philosophy dictates that this week's draw in Kiev was actually a victory. The points tally doesn't show it, but reality will if Chelsea make sure they benefit from it in their remaining Group G games.

And that's the difference between cup football and league football.

They're not equipped to defend their Premier League title, but Chelsea are more than capable of upsetting the Champions League odds. Even if we are still only in October.

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes.


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