Mourinho refuses to take bait from Balkan pretender

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The Independent Online

Away fixtures in Eastern Europe are no longer trips into the unknown. Sofia boasts a Marks & Spencer and a McDonald's and its hotel rooms are free of bugs, both the listening and the biting kind. Ahead of the match with Levski Sofia tonight, the Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho was even able to acquire a video of the Bulgarian champions' recent league match against CSKA Sofia to show his players.

Nevertheless, there are enough uncertainties about this first Champions' League match to be played in the Balkan state for Mourinho to admit that his pre-season pledge to entertain must in no way compromise the need to win.

Mourinho even declined to bite when his opposite number, the Levski coach Stanimir Stoilov, unfavourably compared Chelsea to Group A rivals Barcelona.

"Both teams are very strong but Barça plays attractive football while with Chelsea everything is about winning," said Stoilov. Having been known as "Mury" in his playing days at Levski the 39-year-old coach is now nicknamed "Murynho" and this taunt was straight out of the original's playbook.

Mourinho was unperturbed. He said: "We do not have a player like Barcelona have to do a trick, to leave people with open mouths or be selected for that programme they have on Sky, Soccer AM. But I think when Stoilov says we are a team about winning that is a very, very good compliment. I'm happy with that.

"If somebody wants to offer me 1-0 in this game I take it now. The first Champions' League game at home is always a special game. It is always very difficult for opponents. Levski hasn't the best player in the world like Barcelona has, or the next candidate to win the golden ball, they do not have players with 60 games of Champions' League experience, but they have good qualities."

Levski's competence is unclear. They have won six and drawn one of seven domestic games this season, scoring 23 goals without reply. Last year they reached the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup and were leading Schalke 04 until their French striker, Daniel Bardon, was dismissed. They knocked Chievo out in the Champions' League qualifiers and rarely lose at home. However, they were thrashed 5-0 by Barcelona in the opening round of group games and have several leading players injured.

Stoilov also said: "I was shocked when I saw the draw. Barcelona, then Chelsea, was the worst possible start because it might seriously damage the confidence of my players." Most of the local media believe their main aim tonight will be to keep the score down.

Mourinho disagreed. "I don't believe coaches send out a team with the objective not to lose by a big goal difference," he said. "I think every player goes on the pitch thinking about getting a result, not about not losing 4-0 or 5-0. If they cannot qualify they want to come third and get in the Uefa Cup. They need points for that and it is easier to win matches at home than away.

"Barcelona was the first game for them. They go away, the crowd is maybe 60,000-70,000, the pitch is very big. In five minutes they are losing, they have no time to settle down. I have seen the game, they played OK between the first and second [45th-minute] goal. They played very good football for 40 minutes."

Mourinho expects to be able to recall John Terry, who completed last night's training session. If he suffers no reaction this morning he will play. The only other doubt in selection is the possibility that Claude Makelele may be rested. However, since Chelsea have won only one of their past eight away ties in Europe Mourinho is likely to start with his strongest XI.

Mourinho said that he expected his players to be focused, not least because: "If a player doesn't play well, then in the next game they are normally out of the team." This does not seem to apply to Andrei Shevchenko but the Ukrainian may tonight, on his 100th European appearance, justify Mourinho's patience.

Probable teams: Levski Sofia (4-2-3-1): Petkov; Milanov, Topuzakov, Tmasic, Lucio Wagner; Eromoigbe, Borimov; Telkiyski, Bardon, S Angelov; Youov.

Chelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Cech; Ferriera, Terry or Boulahrouz, Carvalho, A Cole; Makelele; Essien, Lampard; Ballack; Shevchenko, Drogba.

Referee: L Duhamel (France).

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