José Mourinho’s Mood Darkens as Chelsea Arrive for Steaua Bucharest

Perhaps José Mourinho’s mood had genuinely been darkened only by the incessant deluge and choking traffic that greeted Chelsea’s players in the Romanian capital. More plausible, though, was the looming prospect of losing Fernando Torres to a lengthy domestic suspension and an acceptance that Steaua Bucharest, victors when the sides met at the National stadium in the Europa League back in March, represent a distinctly awkward test ahead.

The manager sat through seven questions and a little over a quarter of an hour of his media conference on the eve of this tie before a query over Kevin De Bruyne’s absence offered him an escape route, the Portuguese taking leave to stride out of the room and on to the sodden turf with more urgent matters occupying his mind. His team wallow uncomfortably, third and pointless, in Group E after the sloppy opening defeat by Basel. The recovery must begin in Bucharest.

Chelsea may discover only an hour before they submit their team sheet on Tuesday whether Torres’s one-match ban is to swell to a four-game absence, with the Football Association considering its options before a 6pm deadline back home, though the Spaniard will surely start against Steaua regardless. Mourinho recognises this contest must re-establish his side’s credentials in the section and Torres, on his second-half showing at Tottenham Hotspur, is his most potent attacker.

The management can at least hope memories of the 1-0 loss here six months ago serve as motivation. “That’s good for me,” said Mourinho, reflecting upon the first-leg defeat endured by Rafael Benítez’s team but overturned in the return at Stamford Bridge.

“They lost, they know why they lost, they know it’s not easy and that this will be difficult again. In terms of concentration and motivation, maybe we are one step ahead from last season. Maybe last season came as a bit more of a surprise. This season they know they’re going to play against a good team.”

Of those who started in March, only Yossi Benayoun – who has since been released – and the injured Eden Hazard are missing this time round. The Belgian’s absence with an ankle injury sustained in a challenge with Kyle Walker on Saturday – he is doubtful for Sunday’s trip to Norwich – represents far more of a blow than that of his compatriot De Bruyne, who has been left at home to stew over his recent anaemic form. His agent has since indicated the player is frustrated but intent upon regaining a place in the side, in the same manner Juan Mata has already this term. He would hope to be back in contention in the weeks ahead.

This will be no occasion for players who are off colour. Steaua, despite losing Vlad Chiriches to Tottenham, have dropped only two points in seven unbeaten domestic league games and will hope the state of the pitch, relaid three weeks ago but drenched by the rainfall until the roof was belatedly hauled across the arena on Monday afternoon, acts as even more of a leveller.

“Against the weather you cannot do much, but if the stadium has a roof, I think they have conditions to try to make the pitch the best possible,” said Mourinho. “It’s a responsibility for Uefa because they’re always worried with many things, and the pitch is a very important thing in a football match. I leave it with Steaua and Uefa, and we have to play on the pitch that will be presented to us.”

Torres should be eager to maintain the resurgent form that so scarred Spurs after the interval at White Hart Lane, if not the claw which marked Jan Vertonghen.

The Spaniard scored the tie’s decisive goal in the spring to propel the team into the Europa League semi-finals and will recognise that his involvement at club level until November may soon be limited to two Champions League ties. “If he is [banned], we lose a player in good form and one of our main strikers for four games,” said the midfielder Frank Lampard. “But we have two other strikers, top strikers, and we’ve spoken about there being top competition at the club.

“If it happens, people will have to step up. I really believe in the squad we have, the young players we have, and we have to take on board the new manager’s ideas. I know he’s a winner. He’s shown that not just at Chelsea. We need to bring that all together and, in the squad, we believe we can do big things. But it’s no good talking about it. We need to do it.

“We lost the game here in the first half last season because we started slowly. We have to start this time at the top level given the position we find ourselves in [in the group]. If we turn up, think we’re Chelsea and just need to play to win the game easily, it’ll be no good for us. That’s not going to happen.”

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