By Mike Collett
LONDON, April 3 (Reuters) - Fernando Torres looks set for the Stamford Bridge exit door and Chelsea are in danger of Champions League elimination after a night in Paris when, for once, manager Jose Mourinho's tactics backfired spectacularly.
Mourinho, clearly no longer trusting the 50.0 million pounds ($83.17 million) Spanish striker after his latest lame performance in a 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace last Saturday, started without a recognised forward against Paris St Germain.
Although they played well in patches, the plan failed as Chelsea lacked firepower up front and made mistakes at the back to allow PSG to give themselves a decent shot of reaching the last four with a 3-1 win in the first leg of the quarter-final.
Instead of leading the line, a clearly fed-up Torres warmed the bench for almost an hour while German midfielder Andre Schurrle played as the nominal front man but spent most of his time working and running hard but creating very little.
Despite Mourinho's somewhat negative set-up, his gamble looked to have come off in relative terms as the clock counted down with PSG 2-1 ahead having allowed Chelsea to bank a vital away goal. Then Mourinho's house of cards fell in.
Javier Pastore's brilliant dribble and shot which beat goalkeeper Petr Cech at his near post with the last kick of the game made it 3-1 at the death and put PSG in a far stronger position for the second leg at Stamford Bridge next week.
Chelsea have shown in the past they are capable of recovering from what appear to be lost causes and although this tie is still alive, Chelsea will need a huge improvement.
While they need goals, according to Mourinho he cannot rely on his strikers to score them.
Asked to explain his formation afterwards, Mourinho grumbled: "I am not happy with my strikers performances so I have to try (different) things.
"So with Andre I know that we have one more player to have the ball.
"We have one more player to associate with the other players and even (though) he is not dangerous because he is not a striker he can help us keep possession."
In his pomp for Atletico Madrid and Liverpool, Torres was not only a player that kept possession but never seemed to stop scoring either, but the goals stopped flowing and turned to a trickle when he got to Stamford Bridge in January 2011.
His future at Chelsea has been questioned all season but after this latest snub it seems unlikely he will remain.
While Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 14 times for Real Madrid in the Champions League this season and Chelsea target Diego Costa has seven for Atletico Madrid, Torres has scored three times - with two of those goals coming in their 3-0 win over Schalke 04 in a Group Stage match last October.
Mourinho was without the injured Samuel Eto'o, who, like Torres, has a Champions League winners medal in his collection, and who, like Torres, has also been the target of Mourinho's jibes about his strikers this season.
And clearly Mourinho did not think Demba Ba, who has only scored five goals all season - two of them coming in two minutes against Tottenham Hotspur - was the answer to his problems as he did not even summon him off the bench.
Meanwhile Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku is still thriving on loan at Everton.
The one redeeming feature of Chelsea's play was the midfield maturity of Eden Hazard who scored their goal from the penalty spot to level at 1-1 and also hit the post before halftime.
Over the last decade Mourinho has reached the quarter-final stage seven times with Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, always steering his team through to the semis.
That run could continue next week but they have an uphill battle ahead of them, especially with Mourinho appearing to have such little faith in his goal scorers.
For all Chelsea's vast financial muscle they appear to have arrived at this critical stage of the season without a reliable striker to lead them to glory.
It is a conundrum but Mourinho being Mourinho, he might just conjure up the answer next week.
($1 = 0.6012 British Pounds) (Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Martyn Herman)