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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future