Chelsea chief has faith in his squad

Ferguson v Mourinho: Let the title contest commence
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The Independent Football

Claudio Ranieri did it, so too Gianluca Vialli, even Glenn Hoddle. Prior to Jose Mourinho's appointment, there had been four Chelsea managers in the last 10 years and all - except Ruud Gullit - managed to beat Manchester United at Stamford Bridge in the Premiership. However, they can all tell the Portuguese one thing: it is no guarantee of winning the title itself.

Claudio Ranieri did it, so too Gianluca Vialli, even Glenn Hoddle. Prior to Jose Mourinho's appointment, there had been four Chelsea managers in the last 10 years and all - except Ruud Gullit - managed to beat Manchester United at Stamford Bridge in the Premiership. However, they can all tell the Portuguese one thing: it is no guarantee of winning the title itself.

When Ranieri's successor steps out on Sunday, he will in some ways have a lot to live up to - and also nothing at all. Seventy-six days after signing on to manage Roman Abramovich's money and his team, Mourinho's work begins in earnest.

The former Barcelona assistant was not about to cut himself or his players any slack either yesterday, when he said, before back-tracking slightly, that Chelsea would win the Premiership.

When asked if they will win the title, he replied: "Definitely, I believe no question. What I am saying is that, 100 per cent, I have no doubts that we can and that we have to fight for it. But I can not say a stupid thing that we for sure, will win the championship."

He added: "I have the confidence in myself to believe in good things, but I know enough about football that sometimes you do not achieve the things you fight for."

Fluent enough in English to split hairs, he has the confidence you would expect of someone who had led his previous side, Porto, to victory in the Champions' League in May. En route, his side eliminated Manchester United in the last 16. Tomorrow, he will cross paths with Sir Alex Ferguson once more.

That match in March was the first real exposure the English football public had had to Mourinho, and it ended with him running down the Old Trafford touchline and into the tunnel wagging his finger in victory.

Dampening down reports of a stand-off between him and the Scot, however, he did reveal they shook hands after both games and he said: "I have no problems with Sir Alex. I am ready to play, I am not ready for an individual fight. I respect every manager in the Premier League.

"This is a completely different story tomorrow compared to the Champions' League. The atmosphere, the feeling, this is the opening game of the Premiership."

Having established that slight psychological advantage, Mourinho, who also guided Porto to their league title last season, then surprised everybody by declaring that United would have the upper hand on Sunday.

Feeling that Chelsea's own pre-season preparations were far from perfect, including a sending-off for striker Mateja Kezman, he said: "United have some big advantages. They have worked with their manager and the same players for many, many years, and only a few new ones have come in this summer.

"Also they have already played a match at a high competitive level [their Champions' League qualifier on Wednesday]. Our pre-season was not ideal but I think United are ready."

Having seen the winning display by United in the Champions' League in Romania against Dinamo Bucharest this week, he was not about to give them the benefit of the doubt over their injury problems either. Direct, as is his style, he said: "You can have some injured players but that happens to everybody. Top teams have top squads. If United have some players out they have to cope with it. I don't see a problem for them. That's life when players are out. United have 11 top players, always. They have a wonderful squad."

As for his own squad, Mourinho has dispensed with £70m of Abramovich's money since arriving in June and there is now a group of players that John Terry feels can go on and win the top title in English football for the first time in 50 years.

The captain and centre-half has seen competition for his place arrive in the shape of Ricardo Carvalho, from Porto. He also saw Chelsea finish second in the Premiership last season and is optimistic, like his new manager, that they can go all the way."We believe we can go and win things," he said. "We had a good season last year and the only way to improve on that is to go and win the Premiership, and with the quality of players that we've got there's no reason we can't."

Mourinho rounded off his thoughts by simply saying: "The team is ready. We are ready to do everything to get the points." Let battle commence.

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