José Mourinho: the great manipulator faces his toughest test

Real Madrid CF v RCD Espanyol - La Liga

There is a chance that, by the close of play against Manchester City, José Mourinho may be reminded about the scathing words he reserved for West Ham’s conservatism at Chelsea last week. His own tactics hardly bordered on the adventurous at Manchester United and Arsenal earlier in the season, and when it comes to parking the bus it could be said Mourinho slipped on the handbrake then threw the keys down the nearest drain when his Internazionale team ventured to Barcelona for the second leg of their 2010 Champions League semi-final.

The allegation of possible double standards was gently pointed out before his Chelsea team set off for Manchester and, naturally, there was a look of disdain attached to the response.

What can be said with absolute certainty is that City’s default setting is to go for the opposition. A team with 72 goals from 18 home games cannot be expected to do anything else.

“We play with two strikers, and we have two wingers who are virtually strikers,” Vincent Kompany explained in an interview with ESPN a few days ago. “One of our midfield players – and we have only two – is also virtually a striker. Our full-backs are pushing up all the time so, ultimately, out of a team of 11 players we have six or seven always involved in the attack.”

City have scored 115 times this season and are near-certainties to beat the top-division record set by Manchester United in 1956-57 of 143 in all competitions. If they were to beat Chelsea and do the same to Norwich on Saturday – a side they have already put seven past this season – it would also mean United being closer in points to the relegation zone than top spot when they face Fulham on Sunday.

Mourinho has certainly been trying to get under City’s skin. He is very clever in the way he does it, too, mostly because he has so much experience of it. Lots of compliments and almost startled innocence when he is asked why he fell out with Pellegrini in Spain, but enough throwaway lines here and there to manipulate the headlines and be noticed.

Everybody knew which team would immediately be implicated when he talked, without naming names, about clubs with a “dodgy” perception of the financial fair-play rules (clue: not Paris St-Germain this time) and there was a personal edge when he brought up, unsolicited, Pellegrini’s error of not realising another goal against Bayern Munich would have meant City winning their Champions League group.

“The first thing to be successful in Europe is to know the rules of the competition, that’s the first thing,” the two-times Champions League winner helpfully volunteered.

On Pellegrini’s part, there has been a look of weary, seen-it-all-before indifference. Some managers prefer to be self-contained, and City’s is better described as vacuum-packed. “I never comment on anything Mourinho says,” he says.

Asked if Chelsea could compete with City, he said: “If they want to make it impossible, yes it’s impossible. Because we are not competing outside of what is important for us: the fair FFP. We are working, thinking and believing that FFP is going to be in practice. So there are things that are impossible for us.

“Financially, no [we can’t compete]. Back then [his first spell at the club] it was a free world. There was no FFP. If your club was a rich one, your owner a rich one, there were no rules. It was an open situation.”

His evidence includes the declaration that Chelsea cannot take on City for the signing of Eliaquim Mangala, the 22-year-old France international centre-half who will be available from Porto in the summer. Jorge Mendes, Mourinho’s own agent, is involved in finding Mangala a club, but the price tag is around £37m.

“We can’t,” Mourinho said. “We signed [Kurt] Zouma, who is even younger and a comparable figure.

Someone asked whether opposition teams were scared of attacking City and he interrupted the question. “But I don’t know if they don’t [attack] or if they can’t [attack]. Maybe they can’t. I want to attack them. I can tell you that. But after 10 minutes, people might say I’m not attacking. If I don’t, it’s because I can’t.”

He continued: “I don’t think a lot about them, to be fair. I’m not going to build my team because they are very good at this or that, or bad at this or that. In this moment, Chelsea are going in one direction. Are we going to play with one striker? Yes. We are not going to play without a striker. Are we going to play with three central defenders because they have two fantastic strikers? No. I want to play with two. I think more about us than them.”

His team, though, are in a game of catch-up. “A bit more time. A little bit more players. Just a little bit.” City, he readily admits, have to be considered favourites, both short- and long-term.

Source: Guardian 

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