Mourinho pours oil on Chelsea's troubles

Chelsea 1 Birmingham City 1
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The Independent Online

Remarkable though it may seem, until Saturday afternoon Jose Mourinho had not uttered an opinion in public for two whole weeks which, for a man who can pack a lifetime's worth of controversy into a single afternoon, is a stupendously long time to keep quiet. In Mourinho's world this season we have become accustomed to constant explanation, and rarely can that have been so important in the past 10 days.

Remarkable though it may seem, until Saturday afternoon Jose Mourinho had not uttered an opinion in public for two whole weeks which, for a man who can pack a lifetime's worth of controversy into a single afternoon, is a stupendously long time to keep quiet. In Mourinho's world this season we have become accustomed to constant explanation, and rarely can that have been so important in the past 10 days.

A period in which he has endured his first serious disagreement with the club he has taken to within eight points of the Premiership title and a dispute that has taken Chelsea to the brink of awarding him a new contract. That's £1m extra a year for Mourinho and, though he brushed off the suggestion that a deal worth £5.2m has already been done, he kept his side of the bargain with his chief executive, Peter Kenyon.

Yesterday Chelsea flew to Germany for tomorrow's second-leg tie against Bayern Munich with their manager's reassurance that he is, for now at least, at peace with the club. The draw with Birmingham City was accepted philosophically, but it was Mourinho's reaction to his relationship with his employers that was of infinitely more importance.

"My commitment to the team and the club hasn't altered in any way," he said. "I have a fantastic group of players, I am at a fantastic club and we are part of a fantastic project. We're going in the right direction."

It would be foolish to dismiss the significance of the battle of wills that has taken place between Mourinho and Chelsea over the decision not to appeal against his Uefa touchline ban, but in this crucial week he has chosen to put it to one side. The same does not yet apply to his dispute with Uefa which, you suspect, has not yet run its course. "The truth is like oil in water," Mourinho explained darkly; "it always rises to the top."

In the mean time he defended a group of players who contested a soporific first half with Birmingham and only creaked into life when Walter Pandiani gave the away side the lead in the 64th minute. As the season reaches its defining moment, Chelsea are revealing themselves to be a squad that, despite their great depth, cannot operate quite so effectively without certain individuals. Claude Makelele's absence was telling.

"Maybe this season has been better than everybody could dream, including me," Mourinho said. "I always thought we could win the League but to have an 11-point lead with a month to go is better than I thought we could do. It was always likely that there would be a bit of a reaction to the games we're playing now. It's three games in six days and Saturday was the first of two in four days. That's very difficult.

"Every player needed a rest against Birmingham but I couldn't give a rest to all of them. For everybody it is difficult, physically and mentally. It's not easy. We had to travel again on Sunday and then play on Tuesday.

"It's very, very complicated for us and I think that every team left in Europe and in our situation will suffer a bit in this kind of week."

Birmingham were substantially more durable against the long balls that Chelsea used to such effect against Bayern last week. Their manager, Steve Bruce, defended Mourinho's right to play that way, although he did point out that for less-celebrated sides such an approach is described as "route one", while with Chelsea it's just "direct".

On Saturday, Chelsea's capacity to overwhelm their opposition was lacking. Mourinho had conceded that being separated from his team on Wednesday had been "very difficult", but his greatest fear tomorrow must be that the sense of outrage that sustained his players through the 4-2 victory in the first leg will have dwindled in Munich. This time they will have the company of their manager who, he said, "will be somewhere in the stadium.

"It was very difficult for me but I wouldn't say it turned out harder than I thought it would be," Mourinho said. "In the days before you prepare the game well and give everything you have to try to prepare the team for every situation. You have to coach the team, you have to coach the assistants because you are not there. That part is fine. It's enjoyable. But the other part, when you can't be directly involved in the match, is difficult."

Pandiani's goal was the result of a rare mistake by Petr Cech, who allowed a free-kick to drop over his head, where the impressive Matthew Upson at the back post headed the ball across the area to the Uruguayan striker.

Eight minutes from time, Didier Drogba, on as a substitute for the ineffectual Mateja Kezman, who has not travelled to Germany, slotted the ball home from close range after Frank Lampard found him in the area. But they were a long way from the side who had swept aside Bayern four days earlier.

Goals: Pandiani (64) 0-1; Drogba (82) 1-1.

Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Johnson (Jarosik, 65), Huth, Terry, Gallas; Tiago; Cole, Lampard, Smertin (Gudjohnsen, h-t), Duff; Kezman (Drogba, 45). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Carvalho.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Clapham; Pennant (Gray, 80), Nafti, Johnson, Carter (Lazaridis, 60); Heskey, Pandiani (Morrison, 87). Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Blake.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).

Booked: Chelsea Tiago, Drogba, Cole; Birmingham City Cunningham, Nafti.

Man of the match: Upson.

Attendance: 42,031.

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