Jose Mourinho clawed himself back from the brink of the sack as Chelsea swept into the Champions League last 16 with a 2-0 win over Porto on Wednesday.
Mourinho was in severe danger of being axed as Blues boss heading into a tie that would decide Chelsea’s Champions League fate. But, needing a draw to reach the knockout stages and avoid the embarrassment of dropping into the Europa League, Mourinho’s side took full advantage of the stroke of luck that saw Ivan Marcano’s own goal gift them an early lead at Stamford Bridge. Brazil winger Willian netted the second goal after the break to kill off Mourinho’s former club and ensure they finished top of the Group G.
After Saturday’s loss against Bournemouth condemned the Premier League champions to their latest humiliation in a dismal season, Abramovich was reported to have told Mourinho only European progress would save him. And the sight of the Russian billionaire with a broad smile on his face following Willian’s strike suggested Mourinho has quelled the crisis talk and bought at least a little time to get Chelsea’s domestic form back on track.
Dynamo Kiev’s 1-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv meant Porto dropped to third place and were condemned to the Europa League.
Mourinho made a host of changes after the Bournemouth defeat, with Diego Costa returning upfront despite his recent touchline spat with the Blues boss at Tottenham. Captain John Terry was back from injury and Ramires started in midfield in place of the underachieving Cesc Fabregas.
If Mourinho was looking for reassurance that his alterations would pay dividends, he must have been alarmed by the careless way Chelsea squandered possession on the edge of their own penalty area, allowing Yacine Brahimi space to fire in a cross-shot that Thibaut Courtois had to punch away at his near post.
Desperately in need of an early goal that might sooth his players’ frayed nerves, Mourinho benefited from a moment of extreme good fortune in the 12th minute. After finding himself in Mourinho’s bad books of late, it was ironic that Costa played the key role. Eden Hazard’s pass sent him galloping clear and, faced with Iker Casillas sprinting off his line, Costa tried a low shot that the Porto goalkeeper blocked. That was where lady luck took over as the ball cannoned back off Marcano’s chest and across the line despite Bruno Martins Indi’s attempt to clear.