It is the end of his first season back in England and Jose Mourinho finds himself once more at loggerheads with the Football Association, the Premier League fixture schedulers and the head of the referees’ organisation. If this is the new Mourinho, the elder statesman who came back last summer with a plan to assume Sir Alex Ferguson’s role as the senior man in the management fraternity, then it looks suspiciously like the previous version.
At Cobham yesterday he was a man who gave the impression he was struggling under the strain of the injustices he had been made to bear and a martyr to the FA’s disciplinary system. There was only one attempt at a joke when he agreed with the suggestion that some in the governing body had lost their “English” sense of humour by charging him for his recent sarcasm towards referee Mike Dean and his boss Mike Riley.
Identifying what he considered the epitome of English humour, Mourinho said in reference to what he considered draconian measures, “So Mr Bean is in jail.” And just to clarify, he was referring to Rowan Atkinson’s comic creation rather than Graham Bean, the FA’s former compliance officer.
Once again, Mourinho was arguing that the Premier League should have been more accommodating about Chelsea’s desire to bring forward their game on Sunday against Liverpool 24 hours to give them a greater rest period ahead of the Champions League semi-final second leg against Atletico Madrid. The club believe that the league have not done enough to help, although moving the game was a non-starter with Liverpool.
10 reasons why Liverpool can still lose the Premier League title race
10 reasons why Liverpool can still lose the Premier League title race
1/6 Chelsea could well win at Anfield
The next game for Liverpool is against title rivals Chelsea. While Liverpool showed in the 3-2 win over Manchester City that they can win the big games, the visit of the team from west London is another proposition. Quite simply, Jose Mourinho is a genius when it comes to the big games. Against the other current top-four sides, Chelsea haven't lost. They beat City home and away, beat Arsenal 6-0 at Stamford Bridge and drew at the Emirates and won 2-1 against Liverpool. If Liverpool lose on Sunday, Chelsea will be just two points behind. If City win their remaining games and Liverpool win their other two, they will finish the season equal on points; City currently have a better goal difference.
2/6 Changes at the top
What now seems a long time ago, Arsenal were well clear at the top of the table. A little later in the season, Manchester City were leading and supposedly invincible. Liverpool, were, of course, the Christmas No 1, but sat in fourth place on New Year's Day. Chelsea had a spell at the top too. It's been a season of change, it'd be folly not to think there could be another one before the season is out.
3/6 Manchester City should not be discounted
This is a team who were two points behind Manchester United with just two minutes remaining in 2012, Sergio Aguero then scored in the 95th minute, and the rest is history. Should it go down to the final day, City will have had the experience of being in such a tense situation before, Liverpool have not - at least not for many years. If City win their remaining games and Liverpool win two and lose one, they will finish the season equal on points; City currently have a better goal difference.
4/6 Newcastle come last
Should it come down to the last day of the season there are few more fitting opponents than Newcastle. Liverpool have played out some of the classic games of the Premier League era against the Magpies, most notably the 4-3 thriller won by the Reds during the 1995/96 season. That win for Liverpool seriously damaged Newcastle's title ambitions - could the Magpies return the favour?
5/6 Liverpool's defence is awful
The Reds' defence has been as leaky as a half-built vessel in Liverpool's shipyards. They've got away with it thanks to the goals flooding in at the other end but will their luck hold out in the final couple of games? Crystal Palace, one of the remaining games, have a particular tight rear guard, making it all the more important that Liverpool hold at the other end. Liverpool have conceded more headers than any other side.
6/6 Kolo Toure
How a player of such limited ability as Kolo Toure could become the first to win the Premier League title with three different teams is unfathomable.
What Mourinho has always refused to accept is that a hectic fixture schedule is just as much part of the deal as the potential £70m prize-money when it comes to Champions League participation. He fondly recalls a time when, as manager of Porto or Real Madrid, he could call upon the country’s league to move games around to suit him.
Thankfully, the Premier League is there for the benefit of all 20 clubs, not just the biggest, and a key part of the reason is that the top, European-competing sides have to deal with midweek trips abroad and juggle resources accordingly. That is a factor that keeps it fair and interesting. Move games around to suit the big boys, and they will be handed all the advantages, with elite teams as unbeatable as they are in other countries.
Mourinho called on the authorities to show “respect” to Chelsea because of their European record. He also said that, if the roles were reversed, Chelsea would have switched their fixture to accommodate a title rival playing in the Champions League semi-finals. It is still difficult to discern ultimately what difference Saturday or Sunday would make in the playing of the Liverpool game given that match, plus the two legs against Atletico, would still have to be played within the same period.
Mourinho strayed dangerously close to repeating the sarcastic line about Dean that earned him his latest FA charge – “I told the referee he was amazing, and I repeat: he was amazing.” There was also another complaint about the treatment meted out to Ramires, who has accepted his four-match ban for the elbow on Sebastian Larsson.
“He [Ramires] is a lucky guy,” Mourinho said. “In a few seconds, he was lucky Lee Cattermole didn’t break his leg, lucky that Larsson didn’t break his Achilles, and lucky he only got a four-match suspension. He’s a lucky guy. We accept the charge because we are ‘happy’ with it.”
Nevertheless, Mourinho’s team are alive in two competitions, however much he might have played down their chances of overhauling Liverpool in the league. He could yet reach a remarkable third Champions League final, with a third different club. He has produced the bespoke tactical performances in the big games that underline his reputation as a brilliant coach, whether you like the style or not. What is his problem?
Once again he is casting himself as the man who is victimised by the system: censored, wronged, browbeaten. It may be designed to foster a mentality among his players that the world is against them, but surely that is a trick that had been tried too many times to be viable. Chelsea are on the brink of what could be the greatest season in their history if they were to win both trophies for which they remain in contention, yet Mourinho remains steadfastly downbeat.
Given the assessment that he made at the start of the season, that this was a Chelsea team that required a season under his tutelage before they really challenged next year, then he has surpassed the expectations that, admittedly, he himself set.
Undoubtedly, Chelsea would not be favourites if they reached the Champions League final and losing to Pep Guardiola, or the Real Madrid team with whom he fell out so spectacularly last season, would be painful for Mourinho. As would finishing in the league behind Brendan Rodgers, the protégé he calls a friend, but would not discuss yesterday. Even so, Mourinho’s mood feels out of place given what could be achieved by Chelsea.
As for the weakened team that he has threatened to pick against Liverpool, Mourinho showed signs that he is changing his view on that. “Private,” he snapped when first asked about it by television journalists but later, off-camera, he admitted he was well-stocked for attacking players. It was in defence where there might be a surprise, with Mourinho suggesting Nathan Aké or Tomas Kalas could play on Sunday or Wednesday.
Over at Manchester City, Manuel Pellegrini said that it lacked “respect” to prioritise one competition over another but he prefaced that with the acknowledgement that every manager had to do what he felt was right. As for Mourinho, when he was asked for his interpretation of the Premier League rule L.19 about picking a full-strength team, he said that it could only be decided by the manager himself.
Now he feels he had made his point, the signs indicate Mourinho picking a strong team for the game at Anfield tomorrow, although whether a victory there changes his outlook again, only time will tell. His assistants Rui Faria and Steve Holland were observing from the back of the press-room at Cobham yesterday, usually a sign the manager is on a war footing. If it is all part of a carefully plotted strategy by Mourinho then it is one that is proving hard to understand.