Beware the north of England, Sir Alex Ferguson once told Jose Mourinho in a previous failed attempt at derailing the great Chelsea title-winning machine. In fact, Mourinho has come to like the area so much he was still there last night, accompanying his squad on Monday evening on a trip to the cinema in Manchester to watch the new James Bond film.
Since they came back strong in the second half against Manchester United for the draw at Old Trafford on Sunday, Chelsea have stayed in the north-west to prepare for tonight's game against Bolton Wanderers. Although you have to wonder whether Mourinho's players agreed that Daniel Craig's 007 was anything like as resourceful as the man in charge of Chelsea for whom the world is definitely not enough. Especially when Mourinho has so much financial clout sent from Russia with love.
In some respects the Chelsea party's decision to stay in Manchester is equally symbolic: the champions are refusing to budge an inch. They have the added incentive of a break this weekend after their Champions' League commitments and Newcastle's Uefa Cup match against Eintracht Frankfurt has meant that their game had to be moved to make sure both sides got Uefa's required three days' break. Bad news for Arsenal who have Tottenham and Porto before they meet Chelsea on 10 December - all Chelsea have to worry about after tonight is Levski Sofia.
Not every Chelsea player went to see Casino Royale, they had the choice of watching Borat too, although jokes about exiles from the former Soviet Union struggling to acclimatise to new surroundings should be kept to a minimum around Andrei Shevchenko.
Northern nights like this one against third-place Bolton have been crucial to the Mourinho Chelsea story and no one can draw more significance from a cold winter evening game up north than the Chelsea manager. In February 2005, in his first season at the club, Mourinho talked up an unexceptional scrap against Blackburn, memorable only really for Aaron Mokoena breaking Arjen Robben's foot, into a defining moment in the Premiership title race. Having thrown their shirts into the crowd, his team came back across the pitch like a gang of bare-knuckle brawlers and their manager proclaimed them unafraid of any English football outpost, however - in his opinion - aggressive or remote.
Since then there have been other significant moments on their travels, especially the two visits to the Reebok Stadium where Chelsea claimed the title with a 2-0 win in April 2005 and then, little more than one year later, they won by the same score the day after United failed to beat Sunderland at home.
Mourinho might not have the physical stature to earn himself the kind of nickname that tonight's opposite number Big Sam Allardyce rejoices in, but he certainly makes up for it in his team selection. Mourinho will relish the opportunity to prove that Kevin Nolan, Abdoulaye Meite and their uncompromising band of Bolton brothers are no match for his Chelsea team - especially now that they have crushed Arsenal's football purists on Sunday. If Bolton really wish to prove their status among the elite, and goodness knows they are asked to do so more times than any other side, then beating Chelsea would represent another milestone in Allardyce's remarkable achievements.
Mourinho has taken to telling his players the team late on the night before matches but the feeling is that he will stick with Shevchenko despite his desperate struggle against United on Sunday.
It is rare for United to be the second attraction on a football night in the north-west, especially when they are top of the Premiership table, but without the injured Andy Johnson, Everton will offer much less of a threat. David Moyes was in the stands at Old Trafford on Sunday with his assistant Alan Irvine for what he described yesterday as an "enthralling game" that showed "it is going to be a really tight battle for the championship this season".
"I don't think United have ever really been that far away," Moyes said. "When you are at the top for so long everyone is trying to beat you and you will be pushed. If, like Sir Alex, you are at a club for 20 years then there will always be difficult times, when maybe you cannot get all the players you want in or developed at the right time, but he has built a new team and the championship is going to be a tight call."
With Tim Cahill injured - and United's on-loan goalkeeper Tim Howard ineligible - James McFadden plays alongside James Beattie in attack, a chance for the 23-year-old Scottish winger to impress the most famous Scotsman of all. "There has been a lot of expectation on him [McFadden] since he came down from Scotland but it is easy to forget that he is still a very young player," Moyes said. "He is a player who can get you out of your seat, a real Scottish dribbler, but he needs to make sure he finishes things off more by making the right decision."
The question of the centre of midfield has been crucial to Rafael Benitez all season but Steven Gerrard could never have guessed that when he could at last be assured of a place there that he might be alongside Sami Hyypia. The veteran Finnish central defender is being considered by the Liverpool manager as a serious alternative, along with Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger to fill the gap against Portsmouth tonight.
Benitez said yesterday that Hyypia has all the attributes to play in that position and, while no one would doubt his commitment there is certainly a question mark over the defender's mobility in the absence of the injured Xabi Alonso, Momo Sissoko and Bolo Zenden. "At least nobody can question where I play Steven Gerrard now," he said.Reuse content