For a man with Jose Mourinho’s sensational CV, it was a surprising admission to make — particularly before such a big match.
“If we finish second, it’s fantastic,” the Chelsea manager said ahead of his side’s title showdown at Manchester City tonight. “If we finish second doing the formation work, it’s an acceleration of our process. It’s good.”
For his part, there can be little disputing it fits a theme for the Portuguese this season, even if he has not previously stated it as explicitly as that. On the eve of last Wednesday’s match against West Ham, Mourinho reiterated that his side were unlikely to win the title.
The real doubt, however, regards the sincerity behind such statements. Once Sam Allardyce’s side had claimed a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge and gone some way to actually proving Mourinho correct, there was no talk of processes or being satisfied with second best. The Chelsea manager was fiercely frustrated, to the point Allardyce openly mocked him for not being able to “take it”.
Tonight, of course, Mourinho faces a team that took West Ham to the cleaners. While Chelsea toiled to even create a true chance against Allardyce’s side last week, City easily put nine past them in the League Cup semi-finals.
It is such performances that have made Manuel Pellegrini’s side the most prolific team in modern English football history. With a return of 2.96 goals a game, they have the finest scoring record of any since the end of the Second World War. City have simply blown people away, both in terms of the manner they’ve massacred opposition and the praise they’ve received for their play.
Mourinho, however, hasn’t been so moved. On Friday, he was conspicuously restrained in his comments about them, almost to the point of deliberate attempting to play them down. That, by contrast, would be no surprise at all. The last thing he wants is to create a complex for his own players.
Having previously put many of City’s displays down to “lucky” refereeing decisions and repeatedly mentioning the undue benefits of their wealth, Mourinho’s only real kind words were curiously enough for Edin Dzeko.
“I didn’t follow [them] so much,” Mourinho said, with a seemingly intentional indifference. “It looks like the two midfield players have played well always, so [Yaya] Toure and Fernandinho. I think the third striker is very, very good. I think Dzeko, every time he plays, plays very, very well. The wingers are good. The full-backs, they’re complete. They have everything good.”
Are they now good enough, however, to necessitate Chelsea playing as negatively as West Ham? Or, more pertinently, as negatively as Mourinho himself did with Inter Milan in the 2009-10 Champions League semi-final against Barcelona.
The Portuguese flatly dismissed such suggestions.
“I don’t think a lot about them, to be fair. I’m not going to build my team because they are very good on this or that, or bad at this or that. In this moment, Chelsea are going in one direction. Of course, little details. But we want to go in a certain direction. Are we going to play with one striker? Yes. We are not going to play without a striker. Are we going to play with three central defenders because they have two fantastic strikers? No. I want to play with two. I think more about us than them.”
Mourinho has also been thinking about that famous match against Barcelona in 2010. He claims the damage Inter did to the Catalans in the first leg is too often overlooked, and it is relevant tonight.
“I took Barcelona by winning 3-1. We played in the first game and won 3-1, but it should have been four or five. Inter played the best game of the last 50 years. We went to attack them. We knew we’d have no chance in the second game if we didn’t win at home. So we went with everything we had at home and won 3-1. In the second game, when you start 3-1 up and stay with 10 men, you put the airplane in front of the goal.”
“I want to attack [City],” Mourinho insisted. “I can tell you that. But after 10 minutes, people might say I’m not attacking. If I don’t, it’s because I can’t. I don’t know of other teams’ approach.
“But I don’t know if they ‘don’t’ or if they ‘can’t’.”
That crux may not just be the key to this game but also the entire title race. It is probably fair to say that, when at their best, City are the best team in the league. Although Chelsea pulled off a late win in October’s match at Stamford Bridge, Pellegrini’s side have simply been at their best more often since then.
If City can completely force Chelsea back tonight, it will be difficult to see them being properly challenged for this title. If Mourinho’s side manage to pose a few problems of their own, however, things may get interesting.
There was also an interesting insight into Mourinho’s true intentions when he was asked whether he would like his side to be as widely admired as City.
“No, I don’t want to be popular. I want to win, more than ever. More than ever. I’m enjoying this process, a process that will end in winning.”
When asked how far Chelsea are away from that, Mourinho’s eyes narrowed.
“A bit more time. A little bit more players. Just a little bit.”
The right display tonight, however, could go a long way.
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