Mourinho content to just keep in touch

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The Independent Football

Jose Mourinho may be playing down the importance of Chelsea's League meeting with Liverpool tomorrow - his initial reflection yesterday was, "There are 38 games, and this is one more" - but he is already making his calculations as he seeks to earn a hat-trick of Premiership titles.

The Chelsea manager warmed to the theme he had followed earlier in the week on the eve of his side's Champions' League win over Werder Bremen when spoke of his frustration at the injuries and international commitments that have so far prevented him assimilating the players he has signed in the close season. In response to the question of when everything would come together at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho gave no specific time frame, but the Portuguese made it clear that he expected his players to keep themselves in touch with the top of the Premiership even though there were still big improvements to be made.

"If in two months' time we are playing fantastic and we are 10 points behind Manchester United that is not good," Mourinho said. "But if in two months' time we are playing fantastic and the gap is one, two, three, four points, that is a very good situation.

"It's the same in the Champions' League. We can play much better, but still we beat Werder Bremen and they are a good team. The first problem we have right now is keeping the same level over 90 minutes.

"Against Charlton and Werder Bremen we played better in the first half. The second part is the dynamic of the team. We need to improve our understanding, so it is as if the players can play blindfold."

Unlike Liverpool's manager, Rafa Benitez, Mourinho will definitely not be making any large rotations of his players - at this stage in the season he knows he needs to keep a stable line-up to encourage the promotion of the understanding he seeks.

Despite Liverpool's relative success against Chelsea in recent years, Mourinho denies the idea that Benitez's team have any kind of psychological edge over his men. "There was only once when the result was a big one," Mourinho said. "We won 4-1. After that it has always been close.

"We play so many times - I think 12 times in two-and-a-half years, with so different results. We beat them five times, they beat us four times. I don't think there is a pattern. I think the pattern is that it is always difficult for them, and it is always difficult for us, and whoever is the winner has to sweat a lot to do it."

As for Liverpool's unspectacular start to the domestic season - during which they have dropped two points against Sheffield United and all three against their local rivals, Everton, last weekend - Mourinho believes it has not significantly altered their prospects. "The five points they have lost I think they can lose," he said. "I think it's not a big deal."

Both managers were in accord in refuting the suggestion that Liverpool and Arsenal could be out of the title race if they lose their matches tomorrow against Chelsea and Manchester United respectively.

"The crucial time in the English season is Christmas, just after Christmas, and at the end of the season," Benitez said yesterday. "Not in the third or fourth week, although it is always important. I'm surprised so many people are saying if we lose, the title will be impossible.

"Last year we won one of the first six League games but finished the season with 82 points and came third. This time, I wouldn't be surprised if a team with 75 points finished first. I think the Premiership is much stronger this year and a lot of clubs have improved. More teams will beat each other, teams like Tottenham, West Ham and Blackburn can beat anyone on their day."

The two managers have not been in accord over much in recent months. Both appear prepared to put that behind them - although Mourinho was adamant that he would not be getting involved in any staged shaking of hands for the cameras.

"I'm not a hypocrite," he said. "If I go home and I think, 'OK, I make one or two comments about Benitez I shouldn't make', and if Benitez is at home and it is, 'I made some comment about Jose I shouldn't make', OK. No reasons to have a bad relation. In the tunnel, away from the cameras, we shake hands, we speak two or three minutes and it's over. If we are hypocrites - and I'm not - we don't speak. We are in the tunnel, we don't look at the other, we go to the dug-outs in front of everybody, we shake hands. The next day in the press, Mourinho and Benitez are very good friends and ... no."

For his part, Benitez wanted to put the matter behind him. "My idea is to end it and talk about football," he said. "There is no sense talking about whether we will shake hands or not every time we play."

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