Mourinho’s side got back on track with a 3-1 win over Sporting Lisbon in their Group G finale at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday to erase the bitter taste of their first defeat of the season at Newcastle last weekend.
As group winners, the Blues will be pitted against one of big-spending French club Paris Saint Germain, Italian champions Juventus, Swiss side Basel, Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen or Shakhtar Donetsk of the Ukraine in Monday’s draw for the knockout stages of Europe’s elite club competition.
Mourinho knows taking on PSG or Juventus would be a tough test for the Premier League leaders, while the Blues boss is also well aware of the qualities of Basel, who knocked out Liverpool this season and beat Chelsea twice in the group stages last term.
But there was no chance of a feisty competitor like Mourinho voicing any concerns about the dangers lying in wait for his team as they try to improve on last season’s semi-final exit.
Asked how he felt about the impending draw, Mourinho produced a typically memorable response as he suggested he would have no problem taking on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the rest of the expensively assembled Paris squad.
“I like swimming with sharks — in a cage! I did it in French Polynesia. I didn’t want to do it, but my wife and kids pushed me,” he said.
“The draw is the draw. We have five possible opponents.
“I think Paris would be good because it is easy to travel for us and the fans. But we can’t decide.
“Everyone is hard. You think Basel is easy? We lost twice to them last year and they beat Liverpool this season and Manchester United a few years ago.
“Leverkusen is a German team, Shakhtar? I don’t think there is an easy team at this moment.”
– Sterner tests ahead –
Mourinho’s men scored 17 goals in their six group fixtures — more than any other team in this season’s tournament — but the Blues boss acknowledges the challenges standing between him and the third Champions League title of his career will get much sterner from now on.
“I don’t think any of the big teams are out of the Champions League. Maybe Liverpool. But all the teams that want to win the competition are there and season after season it is the same,” he said.
“I used to say that the real Champions League starts now. Barcelona are there, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich. Then Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Dortmund are all there as well.
“What can we do? I don’t know. Last season we were not one of the top four teams in Europe for sure but we made the semi-finals. Lets go step by step and see how we do.”
Mourinho was also encouraged by a promising cameo from 18-year-old midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who made his debut for the final seven minutes.
“He showed immediately the quality he has,” Mourinho said.
“Everyone in the stadium got the feeling we have a good talent. He has to keep working and hopefully the people around him don’t destroy the work we are doing.
“I told him ‘I give you this (his debut) and you give me a nice bottle of red wine’. Immediately he said no problem!”.
Sporting had needed only a draw to be sure of joining Chelsea in the last 16, but manager Marco Silva conceded his side could have no complaints after paying a high price for their nervous start.
“We didn’t start well so maybe in the first 15 minutes we felt some pressure because it was a big game,” he said.
“We couldn’t manage them in the first half and didn’t have any rhythm. We were better in the second half but our aspirations were killed when they scored the third goal.”