Jose Mourinho says Chelsea deserve to be setting pace going into Christmas fixtures

The league-leading Blues face West Ham on Boxing Day

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The Independent Football

Jose Mourinho has declared that his Chelsea side deserve to head into today’s Christmas programme as Premier League leaders for the first time in five years and that they are a better, more creative and dynamic side than at the same stage last season.

“I think Chelsea deserve to be top of the league. Chelsea deserve to be top of the league,” Mourinho said, repeating the statement for good measure. His discussion of today’s visitors – fourth-placed West Ham – included an admission that his description of their “19th-century football” last January was “stupid, silly words”, which only went to show how the strength and balance his side lacked back then are present in abundance now.

Mourinho applied that tag following the goalless draw against West Ham which cost Chelsea the chance to go second ahead of Arsenal last January, though the present three-point lead over Manchester City – who are at West Bromwich Albion today – tells a different story.

“You know, I think both teams are different than last season,” Mourinho said of the sides, who meet this lunchtime. “We are a better team. We have more creativity, more goals, more attacking dynamic. West Ham are also a better team. They are not a team just in this moment not to concede. They also try to score goals. After us, West Ham [deserve to be top]. Because to be fourth for a team that everybody was expecting them to fight for survival, to fight to keep the last third of the table, I think is a fantastic achievement. Really. Very good.”

The Portuguese has reason to take strength from his side’s Christmas ascendancy. Chelsea have led at Christmas three times in the Premier League era – 2004, 2005 and 2009 – and gone on to clinch the title on each occasion. Not all managers are as impressive as Mourinho at seeing home such an advantage. Only 50 per cent of the sides who have led at Christmas since the turn of the century have gone on to clinch the title.


West Ham have completed the calendar year’s most extraordinary transformation, having been fourth from bottom with a mere 14 goals to their name – fewer than half the number they have scored this season – last Boxing Day morning. Manager Sam Allardyce – sacked by Blackburn Rovers’ owners four Christmases ago – will be gratified to hear Mourinho’s glowing reference for him now, 11 months after declaring that he “didn’t give a shite” about his “19th-century” tag. “He’s got a big history in the Premier League,” Mourinho said of Allardyce. “But now this season he’s giving not just the image of the competitive coach who plays in a certain way, he’s playing in a different way. That is what he deserves at the end of the day.”

The effusive praise demonstrated how little Mourinho fears West Ham, for all their new-found success ahead of a challenging Christmas programme in the capital, during which Allardyce’s players will also entertain Arsenal on Sunday.

Arsène Wenger, who reflected ahead of Queen’s Park Rangers’ visit to the Emirates today on a slump from top spot on 29 December last year to sixth and a position 15 points adrift now, admitted that his own side would now “need to be massively consistent to have a chance to come back” and clinch the title. The Frenchman’s suggestion that the rigours of the World Cup had left his squad full with “too many players who were not at their level” will wear thin among the many fans for whom this season has been a bitter disappointment.

“We had no [Theo] Walcott, no [Jack] Wilshere, no [Mesut] Özil, no [Mathieu] Debuchy, no [Laurent] Koscielny, no [Mikel] Arteta for too long periods. No [Olivier] Giroud for three months. It’s like you have half of the squad out,” said Wenger, launching his customary plea for a winter break.

The Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, who has even more cause for regret 12 months after heading into Christmas as leaders, said that he believes last weekend’s late equaliser against Wenger’s side can regenerate his team, who travel to Burnley today.

Wenger reacts after Arsenal's 2-2 draw with Liverpool

But the most exuberant manager, Mourinho aside, was Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal, who disclosed that the Old Trafford board had presented him with a top-four target, which he believes he can surpass. Van Gaal, the solitary manager who does not enter his technical area, is up against Alan Pardew today, whose year has included a seven-game ban for head-butting Hull City’s David Meyler.

Van Gaal said there was simply more wisdom in sitting down. “Sometimes players can’t read the match. It’s not their quality,” he said. “So sometimes it’s necessary [to stay in the dugout] but [also] I say you cannot influence during a match because of the loudness of the fans. I [also] don’t think I can influence the referee.”

One of his predecessors, the watch-tapping Sir Alex Ferguson, felt differently. “You think the referee is looking at Ferguson?” Van Gaal replied to that observation. “On television you can see that because every television station is recording the manager, I know. But the referee is not looking at the television.”