Scolari hails Blues' 'passion' players

Brazilian coach describes Chelsea as 'one of the best teams I have worked with'
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The Independent Football

He has won the World Cup and the Copa Libertadores twice but Luiz Felipe Scolari said yesterday that he had never been happier with the response of a group of players than he is with his current Chelsea team.

Liverpool visit Stamford Bridge tomorrow in the meeting of the Premier League's top two sides and Scolari said that he had confidence that his team could yet be the best he has ever managed. Scolari will be without the injured quartet of Michael Essien, Michael Ballack, Joe Cole and Didier Drogba but otherwise he has faith that the rest of his squad, possibly even Ashley Cole, will be available for selection. "I'm more happy with this team I am coaching now than ever before in my life. Every job, I've wanted to see professional players with passion. I've seen that in this team. I think it's one of the best teams I've worked with in my life. It's impossible to say if this is better than others – it's very good."

With Essien now expected to be back a month early – which may mean he is available for the end of the season – Scolari said that the secret of his success in bonding with his players so quickly has been simple. "Because I am friendly," he said. "What I say in front of you, I say in front of my players. I have only one face. Sometimes it's different for other coaches. And, remember, I was a player. Not a very good one, but I played 16 years and I know what the players feel sometimes. I'm not afraid to say, in front of the press, that this is a very good player, or this or that. And they respect these characteristics." He inherited a Chelsea team whose unbeaten record at Stamford Bridge stretches back 86 games to February 2004 but Scolari said that his players do not live in fear of finally losing their home record. "I don't hear the players talking about it at the training ground," Scolari said. "Never. We play and we think about winning. One day, maybe we'll lose. But we don't think about the record. We think about winning trophies."

Unlike Mourinho, Scolari was in no mood to belittle Liverpool who he said posed a danger late on in games. "They play more freely now," he said. "They give other teams the chance to score, but because they have good players they do score plenty themselves. We'll see whether they come to play us on the counter or to attack us. I have an idea. But we need to respect them. They never accept that they will lose."

The Brazilian defensive midfielder Mineiro, signed last month as cover for Essien until the end of the season, has joined up with Chelsea although Scolari said he would not face Liverpool. He also warned Joachim Löw that Michael Ballack would not be permitted to fly back to Germany to patch up his differences with the national team coach. "He [Löw] can come here to talk with him," Scolari said.

Memorable meetings

3 May 1986

Chelsea 0 Liverpool 1, First Division

Liverpool secured the championship for the eighth time in 10 seasons, Kenny Dalglish's goal giving the Reds the title on the final day of the campaign.

26 January 1997

Chelsea 4 Liverpool 2, FA Cup Fourth round

League leaders Liverpool took a 2-0 lead in the first-half. Manager Ruud Gullit's introduction of Mark Hughes for Scott Minto changed the game, the Welshman scoring within five minutes before orchestrating the turnaround.

11 May 2003

Chelsea 2 Liverpool 1, Premier League

Another final-day meeting with a lot riding on it. Both sides went into the match level on 64 points, Chelsea ahead in fourth on goal difference, rendering this match a Champions League play-off.

7 January 2004

Chelsea 0 Liverpool 1, Premier League

What remains Liverpool's last league victory, and last league goal, came nearly five years ago. An ineffectual start from Chelsea was punished by Bruno Cheyrou.

James Mariner