Chelsea exiting the Champions League shows why a winter break must be introduced

Broadcasters may oppose the idea but it would allow players to recharge their minds as well as bodies.

UEFA Champions League 2014/15 Round of 16 Second Leg Chelsea v Paris Saint Germain Stamford Bridge, Fulham Rd, London, United Kingdom - 11 Mar 2015

Even after they were knocked out, Chelsea’s European embarrassment continued on Wednesday night when five police officers had to rush to help a Paris Saint-Germain supporter being menaced by a Chelsea fan at Fulham Broadway Tube station at 11.45pm.

Fortunately, the tall, black Frenchman emerged unscathed, being just shocked by the vitriol and threat of violence suddenly launched his way as he walked, then sprinted through the vestibule. Events on the Paris Metro before the first leg, when a black commuter was prevented from entering a carriage by Chelsea followers, has been a stain on the club, and the brief ugly scene at Fulham Broadway shows that some fans are not listening to their club’s pleas for tolerance.

It was a pity for Chelsea, who have handled the post-Metro fall-out as adroitly as possible, but they sadly inhabit a society partly populated by a small-minded poisonous breed with no respect for others. The majority of Chelsea fans, it needs emphasising, united to put on a show promoting “equality” at the Bridge.

Ultimately, their Champions League season ended with them unbeaten and unloved. Even their fans, talking on the Tube after witnessing the fracas upstairs, confessed that their players, and Jose Mourinho with his negative tactics, got what they deserved. Nothing.

Chelsea have been criticised for their behaviour against PSG on Wednesday (GETTY IMAGES)

In the maelstrom following the lowering of the blue flag in Europe it also needs acknowledging that PSG, a far more vibrant force, were far worthier of a place in the last eight. Marco Verratti embodied all the dynamism lacking in Chelsea’s centre. David Luiz and Thiago Silva largely defended well, with Silva in particular winning 77% of his duels, and both scored. PSG left the Bridge talking of the club finally coming of age in Europe. Whatever happens next, they’ll always have London.

Amidst all the praise for Laurent Blanc and his players, and especially their response to losing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a red card so unjust it was blushing, it also needs remembering that this inquest would not be going on if Chelsea had just defended two set-plays better. It was unlike Thibaut Courtois to misjudge his movement from his line. It was rare to see Gary Cahill and John Terry beaten aerially. The footage of Cahill and Terry being so inculcated in the art of grappling that they even got to grips with each other has triggered much schadenfreude outside the Bridge. PSG pulled some stunts, especially Luiz, but the main chicanery came cloaked in blue livery.

Chelsea’s departure sluices more fuel on to the bonfire of the English vanities again burning in Europe. Eight of the last 20 Champions League finalists, stretching back to Istanbul, have been Premier League representatives but the rate is slowing at an alarming rate. Only two English teams have reached Uefa’s show-piece showdown in the past five seasons. Barring a miracle by the Med, no English team will grace even the quarter-finals.

Arsenal and Manchester City may spring seismic shocks in Monaco and Barcelona respectively next week but they travel more in hope than expectation and will surely follow Chelsea and Liverpool through the door marked early exit.

This is a familiar path, with many concerns voiced previously, and English football has much to learn from the debacle of the 2014-15 Champions League season. A winter break would help, enjoying a pause for breath between the third and fourth round of the FA Cup in January and freeing up space for later Premier League dates by scrapping FA Cup replays. It has to happen one day.

Even though English clubs prospered in Europe in the past when there was no winter break, the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Mourinho have always been in favour, saying they had to work even harder to get the winter out of their players’ legs. Unfortunately, the Premier League knows how lucrative overseas broadcast rights are when more intelligent nations take a breather.

PSG had their feet up between December 21 and January 4, a period when Chelsea played five times, tough away trips to Stoke City, Southampton and Spurs while also receiving a revived West Ham and also Watford at home. Branislav Ivanovic played every second of the four Premier League matches but sat on the bench for the Watford FA Cup tie.

Mourinho may need to reflect on whether he should have rotated his players more. Ivanovic has already played 41 games for Chelsea and Serbia this season. The full-back looked sluggish by his own high standards against PSG. Cesc Fabregas is in danger of fading after a bright start, a slight theme of his career. Costa looks the pirate of early season but without the booty. He seemed more interested in feuding with Luiz and, to a lesser extent, Silva, than in finding his first European goal for Chelsea.

Cesc Fabregas looks out of form at the moment (GETTY IMAGES)

Maybe an injection of some youthful zest, the likes of 19-year-old Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and more of Kurt Zouma, will in the future give Chelsea more of the Verratti vigour that so inspired PSG. Yet Chelsea’s exit from Europe also derived from the culture of their coach, of Mourinho playing the percentages, not attacking sufficiently. Those decrying Mourinho still forget that he usually knows how to plot his team’s passage. Some more decorum and dynamism would be welcome, though.

All censuring of Mourinho needs placing into the perspective of the tactical naivety of Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini, who have been far too open in Europe (barring City at Roma). (Brendan Rodgers’ novice status at Liverpool secures his temporary absolving of blame.) This is where the English teams fall down; they rarely require the little grey cells to cope with the hurly-burly of domestic combat.

The Premier League season is so intense, it’s no wonder players like Diego Costa look tired (AP)

The intensity of the English season in terms of the match-day physicality and season-long unforgiving calendar can mitigate against Premier League success on the Continent. English clubs will recover if they introduce a winter break and accept the game is about the brain as well as brawn. The £5.1billion TV revenue will help if invested astutely.

Talking of television, the argument for video technology grows by the game, by the refereeing calamity. Even one of Fifa’s best referees, Bjorn Kuipers, could not deal with the speed and cheating at the Bridge. An official looking at the game on a screen would have saved Kuipers the embarrassment of wrongly sending off Ibrahimovic. If each manager were allowed one appeal to the video ref per half, then Blanc could have prevented a miscarriage of justice that could have cost PSG dear. Food for thought for Fifa while the Premier League deals with its indigestion.