Chelsea planning Robben gamble

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The Independent Football

When even Jose Mourinho has to assert the order to his team that tonight they cannot afford to panic, then it is clear that the stakes could hardly be higher. The emergent force of English football faces its old order with a place in the final of the Champions' League at stake, but last night it was the Chelsea manager who had the most difficult decision ahead of him.

When even Jose Mourinho has to assert the order to his team that tonight they cannot afford to panic, then it is clear that the stakes could hardly be higher. The emergent force of English football faces its old order with a place in the final of the Champions' League at stake, but last night it was the Chelsea manager who had the most difficult decision ahead of him.

In Chelsea's semi-final first leg against Liverpool tonight, Mourinho could have to face Rafael Benitez's team without his left winger Damien Duff. The Irish international is a serious injury doubt and his absence could mean that Mourinho has to gamble on the fitness of his inspirational young winger Arjen Robben who has not started a game since 2 February.

In the meantime, Mourinho abandoned the truculent persona that served him so well against Barcelona in the first knockout round to praise the work of Benitez at Liverpool. On the eve of the most high-stakes match between two English football clubs in memory, Mourinho pointed out the contribution that he and Benitez had made to transforming the successes of Premiership clubs in Europe.

But not before he had acknowledged his own new standing in football. Challenged on his famous proclamation when he arrived in England that he was the "special one" Mourinho said bashfully that he had only said that because he was fresh from winning the European Cup with Porto.

"I arrived with my ego up here," he said gesturing a great height with his hand. Asked what had happened to his ego since then,

having lost any of the 13 knock-out matches he has faced in European competition with Porto and Chelsea, Mourinho said that he would not "panic" and risk an attacking formation tonight. In the first all-English European Cup semi-final, Mourinho said that he believed Chelsea did not necessarily have to triumph in the first leg in order to win the tie.

"We are not going to panic and we are not going to play the first game at home thinking that we have to win," Mourinho said. "After the game I will be very, very cool and, independent of the result, I will believe that we can win this game."

Unwilling to goad Liverpool in the way that he baited Barcelona in the first knock-out round, Mourinho said that he was surprised at his opponent's relatively lowly Premiership position and suggested that his influence and that of Rafael Benitez had improved the prospect of English clubs in European competition.

"The way Liverpool played against Juventus showed clearly how a team can be organised to get results, in the same way that we went to Munich," he said. "Maybe Rafa and I have shown how to do it because we work in English football and it is good for everyone. We should be proud and happy in this country because we already know that we have an English team at the final in Istanbul."

Challenged on his famous self-proclamation when he arrived in England that he was the "special one" Mourinho said bashfully that he had only said that because he was fresh from winning the European Cup.

"I arrived with my ego up here," he said gesturing a great height with his hand. Asked what had happened to his ego since then, Mourinho admitted: "It's even higher."

His Liverpool counterpart, Rafael Benitez, admitted that the striker Milan Baros was still a major injury doubt after suffering a knee injury at the weekend. "Milan is in pain and we need to talk with him," he said. However, Benitez expressed relief that Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard and Luis Garcia were available. He has also added Harry Kewell to the squad.

The Spaniard brushed off criticisms that Liverpool are 31 points behind Chelsea in the Premiership and said he was confident the gap would be narrower next season. He said the gulf between the sides was due to the strength of Chelsea's squad - and the money they have spent - and claimed that over two legs, with his strongest team, Liverpool were "as good as anybody" having knocked out Bayer Leverkusen and Juventus. Benitez said the difference between Liverpool's outstanding form in this competition, and their disappointments in the League, was that "we can lose by one goal in the Champions' League and maybe you will be favourites". In the League a narrow defeat means the lose of three points.

Benitez also spoke of his respect for Mourinho - "a very good coach" - but said the three defeats Liverpool had already suffered to Chelsea did not concern him. Nevertheless he was relieved to have a fit-again Alonso, who broke his ankle in a tackle with Frank Lampard when the two sides met at Anfield, alongside him yesterday.

Alonso himself conceded that his midfield contest with Lampard would be pivotal. "I think that will be a key as the midfield is always a battle in every game and they have a strong midfield. If we control that area we will have more chances."

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