Chelsea's international stars should be enough to impress the crowd at Wycombe's Adams Park stadium tonight in the first leg of their Carling Cup semi-final, but Jose Mourinho was yesterday forced to defend Michael Ballack's form as the Chelsea manager's tactics also came under scathing attack from Bayern Munich.
The criticisms were made by Uli Höness, the Bayern Munich general manager, who was central to the German champions' efforts to keep Ballack at the club last season before he joined Chelsea on a free transfer in the summer. Höness derided Chelsea for buying star players without working out where and how they would fit into the side, and blamed them for Ballack's uninspiring start to the season.
Mourinho immediately responded with a defence of Ballack, although he addressed his argument to the growing sense that the 30-year-old captain of Germany had divided the Chelsea dressing room with his lacklustre performances. While the Chelsea manager accepted, in an earlier interview with German radio, that Ballack had "not done anything amazing yet" he added that he continued to pick him because he was a team player and sacrificed himself for the team. While that would be an unusual interpretation for anyone who has watched Ballack this season, Mourinho went on to deny that the German had causedunrest in the dressing room .
Interestingly, Mourinho's key point was that any player dissatisfaction with Ballack would be irrelevant anyway because it was he, the manager, who picked the team.
"Reports about problems in the dressing room are not correct," Mourinho said. "Do we want more from him [Ballack] in terms of performance? Not from him, from everybody. And if the objective is to put some kind of pressure on me, then no chance because I pick the team, nobody else does it. Press opinions, other player opinions are not for me."
Chelsea will face Wycombe with one of their most unusual line-ups to date. The ever adaptable Michael Essien is likely to partner Paulo Ferreira in the centre of defence and Mourinho's improvisation will draw attention to the deficits within his relatively small squad.
Mourinho said that Ballack would play tonight but, with six first-team players injured and Didier Drogba and Ricardo Carvalho suspended, Chelsea's team will advertise their manager's need for new players this month.
That itself may not be as simple as it has been in the past for Chelsea. With Mourinho's future beyond the summer not certain, it is unclear whether the club's owner, Roman Abramovich, chief executive, Peter Kenyon, and the two other board members will release funds. Even the money raised by the potential sale of Shaun Wright-Phillips has not been guaranteed to Mourinho unless it is for buying young players set to rise in value.
In Dubai for Bayern's winter training camp, Höness is also expected to reach a decision on Owen Hargreaves' future, and his possible move to Manchester United, over the next week. Yesterday Höness, whose battle to keep Ballack at Bayern became increasingly bitter last season, was dismissive of Chelsea's policy of buying players and critical of Mourinho's tactics.
"I think Chelsea have bought these star players without working out where and how they will fit into the side," he said. "They need to decide where his best position is. It's difficult for Michael to be seen at his best, because he is such a similar player to Frank Lampard. Both like to attack and get forward, but one of them also has to get back and defend.
"I think there's a lot of confusion as to what people's roles are. Look at Andrei Shevchenko. Chelsea thought he would be their main striker, but Didier Drogba has done far better, and now they are trying to play both. They need to work out a system and settle on it."