While Chelsea’s manager, Jose Mourinho, was expecting a good night’s sleep on Saturday, a good few of the club’s supporters may have been lying awake pondering how Juan Mata can be held in such low esteem compared with Samuel Eto’o.
It is dangerous for even the most successful managers to appear to have favourites, even if Mourinho has been prepared to explain publicly some of his thinking. Speaking in some detail about the two players and their very different treatment, he was doing so from a position of strength after a 2-0 win at home to neighbouring Fulham took his team to the top of the table for 24 hours: the drug of victory, he claimed.
“To win is the real doping,” as he put it. “The day after, you wake up early and it’s easy. Very, very easy to go to training. So we needed a victory to relax a little bit and we go from there. There is more confidence. They will be more open for tactical work and analysing the situation.”
What he also hopes for is that players such as Mata, David Luiz, Fernando Torres and Cesar Azpilicueta will be champing at the bit to prove their worth in tomorrow night’s Capital One Cup tie at Swindon. It is not the competition that any of that expensive quartet signed up for, but the County Ground in Wiltshire is where they must convince the manager of their value ahead of three further away games at Tottenham, Steaua Bucharest and Norwich.
Only Torres of those four made it on to the pitch on Saturday, for half an hour as a substitute. If not outstanding, he looked superior to Eto’o, who is not the player he was for Mourinho at Internazionale after wasting two years in the financial playground of Anzhi Makhachkala.
“Samuel is, for me, understandable,” Mourinho said. “When you are on the top of the world for almost 10 years and then you go to a different reality – we know he went there for economic reasons – footballistically, it is not a challenge for a player who plays all his life for Barcelona, Inter Milan and in the Champions League. I knew his level would go down but for me he is a very good player. When he has the ball at his feet it is easy to see the player he is. He is lacking sharpness but that is normal. Fernando is the opposite situation. He is very strong, sharp, I’m happy with him and he has my trust.”