Is Mourinho devising an exit strategy at Chelsea?

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The Independent Football

At the conclusion of a week in which Mourinho's relationship with his players has come under severe scrutiny, as have his dealings with the club's scouting director, Frank Arnesen, all amid continued uncertainty about the manager's own future at the club, Chelsea simply weren't themselves. At least, not in terms of their reputation as haranguers of referees.

Yet, if they won over any critics here, it was at the cost of points. There was almost an air of contrition about the visitors in a subdued display which merited no more than they eventually secured. It was almost as if they feared making a strong challenge for the commotion it could create. We can only assume that was a response to the reported pre-match observation of their captain, John Terry, that Chelsea needed to win back their dignity.

The booing of Arjen Robben and Didier Drogba, Chelsea's pair of pantomime dames, was predictable enough - the former did go down once rather theatrically, although it transpired that Nicky Butt's boot had caught him painfully just above his foot - but the crowd even grew bored with that gesture after a while. City's Premiership survival was paramount and, as it became apparent that at least a point was there for the taking, that was where they invested their emotional responses.

Without the familiar edge to their game, Chelsea were as pale and insipid as their changed shirts here. Even Frank Lampard failed to inspire. How else could you explain why Mourinho's team, which has secured 104 more points than Steve Bruce's since he succeeded Claudio Ranieri, failed to capitalise, when matched against a side which has been operating like a pick-your-own goal shop? Mourinho, not for the first time this season, complained about the cancellation of a goal, this time by Asier del Horno. The Chelsea manager was probably wrong. Some will condemn him for grousing, although doesn't every manager do that, other than Stuart Pearce? Having raised the issue, he then dropped it, claiming: "Every single word I say in this country... the next day it is a nightmare."

Could it be that Mourinho is preparing the way to depart England, publicly embittered by what he sees as unfair treatment by the media? For the moment, though, more auspiciously, he can contemplate the arrival of Michael Ballack from Bayern Munich, Andriy Shevchenko from Milan - certainly, Chelsea desperately need that cultured striker - and even perhaps Ashley Cole from Arsenal. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition with Arsenal's incisive forward play in their Champions' League defeat of Juventus, but the presence of Drogba at the point of an arrowhead, supported ineffectively by Damien Duff and Robben, appeared like a cosh in contrast to their London neighbours' employment of the deadly stiletto.

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