Chelsea boss backs Manchester City for the title, but is anyone really fooled?
Jose Mourinho may well insist that he is not playing mind games with Manuel Pellegrini when he says that Manchester City are not the red-hot favourites for the Premier League title, but the Chelsea manager is not fooling anyone.
There was once a time when a 2-1 home win over Liverpool would have prompted Mourinho to bullishly back his side for a title charge. After all, that victory, and the subsequent 3-0 romp at Southampton, saw Chelsea edge into third in the table, two points behind Arsenal, and just a single point behind Pellegrini’s City.
But he did almost the exact opposite, suggesting that even making the Champions League places will be a big achievement. He pointed to City’s superior strength in depth – they can ‘kill’ anyone on the league, he reflected.
True, but it was a flimsy enough argument, bearing in mind the quality that Mourinho has at his disposal. With Eden Hazard dancing his way through defences almost at will, Oscar coming on to almost single-handedly dismantle Southampton and Willian showing another glimpse of his prodigious talent, Chelsea are hardly suffering in Manchester City’s shadow. Even with strikers who do not always seem to know where the net is. If a second bid for Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain is successful, his argument will hold even less water.
Rather, this was Mourinho’s poker-face. He will, of course be aware that the second half of Chelsea’s season is not as hard as it might have been.
His side will have home advantage in the potentially crucial games against Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, with the only real fly in the ointment a visit to Liverpool in late April.
The hardest game of the lot comes against City at the Etihad on February 3, and if Chelsea can get a result there (no easy feat, admittedly), they can set themselves for a decisive push.
City, meanwhile, face a far harder five months, with away games at Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. In a season of inconsistency away from their home fortress, that must be a concern for Pellegrini despite their fine recent form.
Chelsea’s next three matches pit them against Hull City, United and West Ham, before that trip to the Etihad, while City must travel to both Newcastle and Tottenham – difficult games, and there is every chance that, come the end of January, the two sides will be neck and neck.
Even if that is the case, do not expect Mourinho to start expounding on his side’s chances. The Chelsea manager is happy to place the pressure firmly on his counterparts, even if the league table proves that his side are very much in contention for the title.
image: © tpower1978