Jose Mourinho sparked a potentially major controversy in the Premier League season when he said tonight he would field a considerably weakened team against Liverpool on Sunday in what will be a critical game in the title race.
Against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final first leg, the Chelsea manager lost Petr Cech for the rest of the season to a suspected dislocated shoulder and John Terry to an ankle injury which his manager said will mean he would only be back in time to play the final, should Chelsea reach it. They drew 0-0 with Atletico in Spain, laying the groundwork for what they hope will be a victory in the second leg in London next Wednesday.
However, it is the scheduling of the Liverpool game just three days before his side face Atletico that Mourinho was most concerned about, saying that he would seek the permission of Roman Abramovich before going ahead with his plan to play a weaker team at Anfield.
Chelsea trail leaders Liverpool by five points with three games to play and defeat would end their hopes of the title. Manchester City have a six-point deficit to Liverpool but have four games to play, and need Chelsea to win in order to keep their hopes alive. The Premier League rule that forbade clubs from fielding a weakened team no longer exists, after Blackpool fell foul of it in 2011.
Mourinho confirmed that winning the Champions League now took priority over the title race. Bringing up the subject of Sunday’s game himself in the post-match press conference he said, “If we have to play the kids, we play the kids.”
He added: “I can't decide by myself. That's a decision I have to listen to the club. I'm just the manager and I have to listen to the club. The fact that the match is on Sunday, I think puts the problem not in my hands but in the hands of those who decide the game should be on Sunday and not Saturday or Friday.
“We represent English football and are the only team in European competitions. Spain has four and gave them all the conditions to try to have success, so I know what I would do. But I'm not the club. I have to speak to them. I would play with the players who are not going to play Wednesday [against Atletico].”
Asked why that should not be his decision he said: “I'm not the most important person in the club ... everybody is above me. I work for them and have to follow what my club decides.”