Chelsea finished four points behind City last year but can go eight points clear with victory at the Etihad Stadium.
Mourinho famously described his Chelsea side as a “little horse” last year compared to City and while he would not describe them as a thoroughbred quite yet, he was clear at his pre-match press conference: “We improved. We improved our team and our squad.”
He added: “I don’t want to compare [to City]. I just want to say that I feel our squad is better than last season. We have more solutions. We got a couple of players with qualities which we didn’t have last season.”
Chelsea 1 Schalke 1 player ratings
Chelsea 1 Schalke 1 player ratings
1/22 Thibaut Courtois
Hardly worked until forced to make an impressive stop from Kevin-Prince Boateng before the break. Could do nothing with Klaas Jan Huntelaar's leveller. 6/10
2/22 Branislav Ivanovic
As attacking as ever from full-back, provided a great ball in to Cesc Fabregas. 7.
3/22 Gary Cahill
Fairly comfortable night but Julian Draxler skipped by with ease on one first-half occasion. 6.
4/22 John Terry
Reliable as ever on his 600th start for Chelsea. Booked for kicking the ball away - and into the Schalke goal. Late effort cleared from under the crossbar. 7
5/22 Filipe Luis
Maiden start in a Chelsea shirt and an assured performance from the Brazil left-back. 6.
6/22 Nemanja Matic
Usually rock-solid but was caught on the back foot more than once by the impressive Draxler. 6.
The Brazilian's inclusion allowed a more advanced role for Fabregas. Usual workmanlike display. 6.
Played in a wider role to allow Fabregas to operate through the middle. Started well but not enough influence. 5.
9/22 Cesc Fabregas
Opened his Chelsea account in the early stages but could have been booked for a challenge in the build-up. Fluffed his lines when presented with a great second chance and caught out for Schalke's equaliser. 7.
10/22 Eden Hazard
Pulled the strings once more and can orchestrate many more successful nights for Chelsea on this display. Faded slightly in the second half but had two good chances to win it late on. 8
11/22 Didier Drogba
His last kick in Europe for Chelsea before tonight was the winning penalty in their final win over Bayern Munich, tonight the experienced striker could not find the back of the net but came very close on the hour. 6
12/22 Ralf Fahrmann
Made a bizarre attempt to clear Willian’s cross with his feet, and looked uncomfortable dealing with crosses. 5
13/22 Marco Hoger
Pinned back by Willian in the first-half, the right-back grew into the game after the interval and looked more assured. Booked for time wasting late on. 6
14/22 Kaan Ayman
Dealt well with Drogba, and was largely untroubled. 6
15/22 Roman Neustadter
Solid performance, and cleared Remy’s shot off the line in the closing stages. 6
16/22 Christian Fuchs
Made important first-half tackle to deny Drogba, and got forward more in the second half. 5
17/22 Kevin-Prince Boateng
Had a few decent efforts from range, as the former Portsmouth midfielder did his best to make things happen from unfamiliar deeper role. Booked for clumsy foul on Hazard. 6
18/22 Dennis Aogo
Usually a full-back, the German international struggled with Fabregas’s movement in central midfield. 5
19/22 Sidney Sam
Disappointing – thrashed at a few shots and over-elaborated when in decent positions. 5
20/22 Max Meyer
Impressed with his energy and willingness to take players on. 6
21/22 Julian Draxler
Schalke’s best player by a distance – looked a cut above with his pace and direct running. Unfortunate not to score in the first-half at the end of a powerful burst, and set up Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s goal following a similar run. 7
22/22 Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
Took his goal superbly having endured a frustrating evening up until that point. Didn’t do much besides scoring, but that’s always been the Dutchman’s game. Booked for dissent in the first-half. 6
Those players, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, have transformed Chelsea, giving them far more attacking threat. Costa has scored seven goals in the first four Premier League matches despite a hamstring problem that is being managed.
Mourinho admitted that Costa starting on Sunday is a “risk”, and that it will stop him from facing Bolton Wanderers in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday. “Diego is not in the best condition, but he will start the game,” he said, adding that Costa – who trained fully on Friday morning – could do with a few weeks off, but that he “had to play” on Sunday. “Me, him and the doctor – the decision was made between us,” Mourinho said.
“What we can do to improve the situation, we have to do if he is not playing. He needs work, not just from the medical department, but also on the pitch and in the gym. The player is amazing, his attitude is amazing. Clearly, we have to try and protect him until he gets completely fit.”
Chelsea have also been improved by the arrival of Fabregas, providing a creativity in midfield which they missed last season. Mourinho said he was not surprised at all by the former Barcelona player’s impact and that the Spanish midfielder had filled an obvious gap in the side.
“I know the player, I know his qualities: age, experience, tactical culture, made in England, made in the Premier League, no need to learn principles and philosophies and feelings. The team was waiting for a player of his dimension.”
Fabregas has helped to replace Frank Lampard, who could turn out for City against his old club. Mourinho, who said he still had a good relationship with Lampard, said he could foresee Chelsea’s record goalscorer returning to Stamford Bridge. “He can be back one day,” he said, “if he wants to be a manager.”
When Chelsea went to the Etihad in the Premier League last season, Mourinho masterminded a performance of brilliant counter-attacking football and Chelsea won 1-0. On Friday, he said he found it easier to prepare players for big games because they are more focused.
“It’s easier in the sense of the players being completely open to training, to analyse, to study, to prepare themselves,” he said. “They bring themselves to a certain level of expectation before the big games that makes my work easier.”
After hitting City on the break last time, Mourinho said his team were ready to have possession of the ball, and now had more than one way to win the game.
“The game is unpredictable and we don’t know what will happen,” he said. “If we can have the ball, thank you very much. We want it. If they have the ball, we have to defend and play on the counter. You never know the direction of the game. But our team is comfortable in both situations. We have the ammunition to defend and go on the counter. If we have the ball and are in control, we have the conditions for that too.”
Of course, Chelsea are just four games into the season and Mourinho said they have a long way to go. “I want to make everything better, I am not happy with what we have,” he said. “We are in the beginning of our second season. We are far from being the perfect team. Are we better than last season? We believe so. Do we have more potential than before? I believe so. But we still have lots of work to do.”Reuse content