Injury-ravaged Blues face 'fantastic' Chelsea threat

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The Independent Football

Steve Bruce last night hailed Jose Mourinho as "a breath of fresh air" in English football. But the Birmingham City manager, who takes an injury-stricken side to Stamford Bridge in the fourth round of the FA Cup tomorrow, warned that winning a unique Quadruple of trophies may be beyond even his supremely confident Chelsea counterpart.

Steve Bruce last night hailed Jose Mourinho as "a breath of fresh air" in English football. But the Birmingham City manager, who takes an injury-stricken side to Stamford Bridge in the fourth round of the FA Cup tomorrow, warned that winning a unique Quadruple of trophies may be beyond even his supremely confident Chelsea counterpart.

Bruce, buoyed by the impending £6m signing of Craig Bellamy, rated Chelsea's prospects of a clean sweep in the Premiership, Champions' League, FA Cup and Carling Cup as "very doubtful".

Mourinho's side lead the league by 10 points, are through to the Carling Cup final and the knock-out stages in Europe. Bruce, who captained Manchester United to their first Double in 1993, said: "It takes some doing, no matter how good your squad is. Anything can happen in a cup-tie - you can have an off-day - so it's going to be very difficult."

The speed with which Mourinho had tightened Chelsea's defence impressed Bruce when they won 1-0 at Birmingham early in the season. "Look at any successful team and the goals-against column doesn't stack up to much," the former centre-back said. "To have conceded only eight in the Premiership is a fantastic record."

Since then, however, the Portuguese has added an awesome attacking dimension in Arjen Robben, a winger who reminds Bruce of a certain Old Trafford prodigy of a decade past.

"He is only 20, yet he has taken the league by storm since getting over his injury," said Bruce. "The way he runs at people with unbelievable pace is similar to Ryan Giggs. Robben gets spectators off their seats because he's a dribbler, which is a dying art."

Spending as freely as Chelsea have since Roman Abramovich bought the club is no guarantee of success, observed Bruce. "It's all very well having money, but you still have to pick the best players, get them to gel as a team and choose a system that works. Mourinho has done all that.

"Whether you call him a personality, a maverick or just someone who's extremely confident, he is fantastic at his job - and his team reflect that.

"The way he has come in and competed with Manchester United and Arsenal in a short time has been a breath of fresh air. We all knew he wasn't going to be timid because he had won the Champions' League and Uefa Cup with Porto. So the fella had to have talent. We all enjoy watching him and we're all intrigued by him."

Planting tongue firmly in cheek, Bruce suggested the rigours of the British winter might be affecting Mourinho. "He was very handsome in the summer, but I have to say he's not so olive-skinned now after six months! He's deteriorating badly."

In another light-hearted aside, alluding to when Mourinho alleged a negative approach by Tottenham at Chelsea, he pondered parking two buses across Birmingham's goal. They may need them. Bellamy is Cup-tied, while Birmingham's casualty list is the worst Bruce has known as a manager.

They will be without Muzzy Izzet, Salif Diao, David Dunn and Stan Lazaridis - midfielders all, as is the suspended Damien Johnson. Kenny Cunningham (hamstring) is also a "huge doubt". Dunn, who is out for the rest of the season, is to consult a back specialist about the possibility of surgery.

"We're playing the best team in the country at the moment and we're very thin on the ground," Bruce said, adding defiantly: "But we only need 11."

He remains hopeful of taking the Arsenal winger Jermaine Pennant on loan. Pennant is due in court on a drink-driving charge on Tuesday - hours after the transfer window closes.

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