Manchester City v Chelsea: Jose Mourinho talks down Chelsea title hopes

The Blues will trail City by six points should they lose tonight

Jose Mourinho’s considered response, amid all the frantic hype for Monday evening’s game, is to almost call off the title race that his team could well win. Victory at the Etihad Stadium would leave Chelsea level on points with Manchester City with a far easier 14-game run-in. But Mourinho, who has been playing at managing expectations all season, is still resolutely disengaged.

This has been the story for a while. Even over recent weeks, even during Chelsea’s run of seven straight wins that started on Boxing Day and ended on Wednesday against West Ham, Mourinho would not be drawn into admitting the reality of the title battle. 

His point is that City and Chelsea are two sides in very different stages of their development, that City have a team built to win now while Chelsea are a work in progress. For now, then, they cannot be expected to compete as equals in the league. Mourinho returned to the topic yet again in his pre-match press conference.

“Next pre-season, day one, I will say we are candidates to win the Premier League,” promised the Portuguese  manager. “This season, we are candidates to win the next match.”

Manchester City v Chelsea: Fernandinho finds his feet to give City added power in race for the Premier League title  

So there is no pressure  whatsoever on Mourinho’s young side and certainly no immediate presumption of his third Premier League title. The focus, Mourinho insisted, is on the long-term. “If we finish second it is fantastic. If we finished second doing the  formation work, it’s an acceleration of our process. We are preparing for next season much more than this.”

There is certainly something to his humble analysis. This City team is built around a core of world-class players of the right age to win titles. Vincent Kompany is 27, David Silva 28, Yaya Touré 30 and Sergio Aguero – missing this evening with a hamstring injury – 25. Beyond those four, City are well-stocked with quality, experience and  hunger: Pablo Zabaleta is 29, Fernandinho and Alvaro Negredo both 28.

“The players are very experienced,” Mourinho pointed out, not for the first time, “and the club was champion not 20 years ago, but two years ago. Basically a big nucleus of the players are the same. The players are fantastic, the squad is amazing, but you also need the manager to do a good job and I think he is.”

Asked to name City’s best player, Mourinho mentioned Touré, Fernandinho, even, to illustrate their strength in depth, Edin Dzeko, then the wide players, and then the full-backs. “They are complete,” admitted Mourinho. “They have everything good.”

Chelsea, in contrast to the first squad Mourinho had at Stamford Bridge, are a mixture of veterans and relative youngsters, a group he is having to teach and mould into a competitive unit. They have not won the league since Carlo Ancelotti did it in 2009-10, long before they started the rejuvenating process that is still ongoing. What does Mourinho need to turn them into title-winners? “A bit more time. A little bit more players. Just a little bit.”

Eden Hazard, Chelsea’s one true world-class performer, is just 23. Oscar is 22. New signings Mohamed Salah and Nemanja Matic are 21 and 25 respectively. Marco van  Ginkel, André Schürrle and Romelu Lukaku, all of whom might expect to be more involved next season, are 21, 23 and 20.

But for all of that,  Mourinho’s words do not  perfectly represent the realities on the pitch. While their autumn form was poor, after the Capital One Cup defeat at Sunderland they produced a run full of character, courage and the discipline and focus which fuels every team he has ever put out.

There was a 0-0 draw at Arsenal, where Mourinho used the same deep-seating 4-5-1 he might employ tonight. Then there were seven straight wins, including a 3-0 stroll at Southampton and home victories over Liverpool and Manchester United.

Given the difficulty of City’s remaining games, Chelsea could be equally-likely champions. Even should City go six points clear of them tonight, they could easily drop enough points at Old Trafford and the Emirates next month, and Anfield and Goodison Park in April, to lose the league.

It was on Wednesday night, when Chelsea failed to unpick West Ham and City blew Tottenham away at White Hart Lane, that the football seemed to be backing up Mourinho’s claims again.

Events could well prove him right, and City could win big at the Etihad and run away with the title. But there is little doubt that this year’s Mourinho, humble and patient, is a chosen front. Next year, as he has promised, he will be different again.

“I don’t want to be popular. I want to win, more than ever. More than ever. It doesn’t matter how many times I did it. More than ever, I want to win it. I’m enjoying this  process, a process that will end in winning,” he added.

 

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat