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Jose Mourinho looking to banish ghosts of Champions League past this season

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The brutalist construction of the Parc des Prince sits heavily amongst the elegant Parisian architecture in the south-west of the city. The cavernous bowl casts looming shadows on the pristine turf when the sun shines, and industrial spines of concrete jut out into the sky, threatening to latch on to their surroundings. It's a pretty impressive structure, if a little ugly. A fitting venue, nonetheless, for Jose Mourinho to begin his journey to banish the last remaining ghost that haunts his career.

Game on

Chelsea will take on Paris Saint-Germain tomorrow evening in the Champions League last 16; a tough assignment for the Blues but one they are expected to overcome. 

Laurent Blanc's under-performing side are third in Ligue 1 behind Lyon and Marseille. Handed a softball opponent to limber up for the big night PSG fluffed their lines against Caen, coughing up a two-goal lead in the space of a few minutes of extra-time madness.

The rumours seeping out of the camp are that Blanc - at least fourth choice when he was handed the role in 2013 - is for the chop at the end of the season, and that his players feel demotivated. Still, given the option, the former France defender would probably still have preferred to be able to call upon the services of Yohan Cabaye, Serge Aurier, Marquinhos and Lucas Moura no matter how much they've flattered to deceive. As it is, all four will miss the game through injury.

Damaging

This isn't the same PSG team that bloodied Chelsea's nose and indeed came agonisingly close to landing the knock-out blow when they met at the quarter-final stage last season, despite the fact that ironically it will largely be the same team. PSG's front six could well be exactly the same as those who stepped out against the Blues last year, and at the back there could be two. No, something is certainly missing this season.

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Mourinho won't be facing just Paris Saint-Germain though, he'll be battling against his own history in Europe's leading club competition too. Six Champions League semi-finals have rolled by and taken Mourinho down with them, including his last four in a row. They remain the largest blot on the Special One's otherwise pristine copybook.

Examining his efforts to secure Europe's top prize with Chelsea requires more time and a hard drink, but the mere mention of the phrase 'ghost goal' - Luis Garcia's phantom strike for Liverpool in their 2005 semi-final showdown against Chelsea - is enough to lure his thoughts down from his mind to his heart.

Defeat

"Losing a Champions League semi-final to a goal that didn’t cross the line will stay in my mind for ever,’ he said last month. ‘I cannot forget it. It still hurts, of course it does."

Jose Mourinho Champions League semi finals

The cruel nature of the defeat still rankles with Mourinho, as surely does the loss on penalties against the same team at the same stage in 2007. Then there is last season's turnaround against Atletico Madrid. Mourinho spent much of last season telling anyone who would listen that his team 'were not ready' to win silverware home or abroad but as magnanimous as he was afterwards, Mourinho doesn't like to lose, full stop.

Downed

Robert Lewandowski's virtuoso performance stopped Real Madrid in their tracks in 2013, a penalty shoot-out against Bayern Munich was the difference again in 2012, while Barcelona's 2011 victory prompted Mourinho's conspiratorial 'dark forces' tirade after he'd been banished from the sidelines mid-game. Each game bears a harrowing memory for Mourinho, each a scar he wears to this day.

Jose Mourinho semi-final defeats

That brings us to tomorrow, and the first step along the road to a certain degree of redemption - enough as there can possibly be on offer for a man who has two Champions League winner medals to his name, anyway.  

Further down the line - although looking too far into the distance would be remiss of Chelsea - lurk a Real Madrid side who went 22 games without dropping a point earlier this season, a Barcelona team who have won their last 11 and Bayern Munich, who are eight points clear at the top of the Bundesliga despite a recent blip.

Glory

For Mourinho to win the Champions League with Chelsea - a club he recently said he would be happy to stay with for 10 years which is somewhat optimistic for a man who has never stayed in one place for more than three - would be different to the titles he won with Inter Milan and Porto. Not necessarily more special, but different.

After all, it was his arrival in west London back in 2004 that was meant to herald the arrival of Chelsea as a European superpower buoyed by Roman's Roubles. So far they've won the Champions League alright, but with Roberto di Matteo at the helm. That's gotta hurt. He wasn't the one to deliver La Decima for Real Madrid either, which must only serve to drive him forward faster in the search of what he craves. Success at the very top has been absent for more than four years now.

He's won the Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and English leagues and too many cups to count. However tomorrow marks more than the start of Mourinho's quest to become the first manager to win the competition with three separate clubs. It's the start of his journey to conquer the last remaining frontier in his career.

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Topics:
Football
Jose Mourinho
UEFA Champions League
Chelsea

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