LONDON: Jose Mourinho faces a decisive moment in his fight to save his job as the beleaguered Chelsea manager bids to avoid a catastrophic exit from the Champions League against Porto on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
Mourinho is on the brink of being sacked by Blues owner Roman Abramovich after Saturday’s stunning 1-0 home defeat against lowly Bournemouth left the crisis-torn Premier League champions languishing just two points above the relegation zone.
Mourinho was given a public vote of confidence by Chelsea at the start of October, but Abramovich’s patience is wearing thin as the club’s worst start to a season in his 12-year ownership shows no signs of improving.
Although Mourinho has continued to insist he retains the support of his players amid rumours of a dressing room mutiny against his hard-line style, the limp manner of their surrender against Bournemouth suggested otherwise.
Abramovich held talks with his closest Chelsea aides, Marina Granovskaia and Michael Emenalo, over the weekend and it is reported the Russian told Mourinho he must lead the team into the last 16 of the Champions League to avoid the axe.
Chelsea need only a draw at Stamford Bridge in their final Group G fixture to be certain of a place in the knockout stages, but what in previous years would have been a forgone conclusion for a team managed by Mourinho now looks a decidedly more taxing task.
Once virtually unbeatable at the Bridge under Mourinho, Chelsea have lost four times on home turf this season and Porto, who need a win to be sure of progressing, are unlikely to prove a pushover after beating the west Londoners in Portugal earlier this season.
Faced with by far the worst run of his glittering managerial career, Mourinho has responded by ramping up his demands and he called the players in for extra training on Sunday, a move said to have been met with a far from enthusiastic response.
It would be the ultimate irony if the Portuguese club where Mourinho made his name by winning the 2004 Champions League deliver the final blow that ends his second spell with Chelsea.
And after so many unexpected setbacks this season, Mourinho admits he can take nothing for granted against Porto.
“It’s a knockout game,” Mourinho told Chelsea TV. “It’s a group phase where normally you still play for points.
“But the reality is that it’s a knockout. Chelsea or Porto, one will be out. For sure, a big game.”
Dynamo Kiev are two points behind Chelsea and Porto and if the Ukrainian club fail to beat Maccabi Tel Aviv, Mourinho’s men would qualify even if they lose to Porto.
But Mourinho would rather not reach the last 16 through the backdoor.
To convince Abramovich he is worth persevering with, he knows Chelsea need to recapture the swashbuckling form that helped them open up such a big lead in the Premier League last season.
And to do that, he somehow has to drag an improvement from a group of forwards, most notably Diego Costa and Oscar, playing as if they had only just been introduced to each other.
“We didn’t score against Stoke, we didn’t against Tottenham. We scored one goal to win the game against Norwich. It’s difficult for us to score goals,” Mourinho said.
“Scoring goals is a lot about individuals. The creation is collective, but the finishing is something very individual and at this moment we’re not having that.”
Porto warmed up for their trip with a 2-1 win over Pacos Ferreira on Saturday that extended their unbeaten run in the Portuguese league to 12 matches.
Mourinho, perhaps already fearing the fates are aligning against him, had a downbeat take on that result as well.
“The percentage of victories (for big clubs in Portugal) is so high that you can think about other competitions,” he said.
“In England our situation is so bad we have just to focus on the Premier League.”