MOURINHO: ENVY OF EUROPE
This Barclays Premier League season will be more difficult to win than any other he has managed in, according to Jose Mourinho.
League leaders Arsenal are four points clear, but with just a further four points separating second and ninth, there is no doubt this top flight is shaping up to be one of the tightest ever.
Mourinho assessed the strength of England's domestic league now compared to his first spell in charge, before giving his verdict on whether a title triumph in 2013/14 would rank higher than the one his Chelsea team managed in 2004/05.
'The competition is different now, the teams are different now. Before there were just three teams fighting for the title, now there are six,' the manager pointed out.
'Nobody knows what can happen. Maybe the difference will be whether teams are in or out of Europe. Maybe the difference will be a couple of points.
'It will be good fun. We have the competition that every country in Europe wants to have, but nobody has. We have a fantastic league and we should enjoy it.
'To win the title this season would be more impressive than winning it in 2005,' Mourinho judged. 'History plays a role. To win when the club is not historically a winner is a hard step to take, so to win the first time was hard, but to win the title this season would be a bigger achievement.'
Ahead of a busy week of action, during which we will play three crucial league games, the Portuguese has been discussing how he plans to utilise his squad with nine precious domestic points up for grabs.
Following the loss to Basel on Tuesday night, the manager noted that a number of his players were feeling the effects of fatigue, with many having recently returned from an international break that had taken them all over the world. Mourinho explained how he plans to manage his players over the busy period ahead, with a particular focus on Juan Mata and Frank Lampard.
'I have to think about the week and not just about this match.
'Of course, this match (against Southampton) is the most important one because it's the next one, but in some positions I have the conditions to make rotations and to put fresh legs from match to match. I will try not to give three matches to anybody. This is a week for everybody.
'Juan will play at least a couple of matches. In relation to him I keep saying the same thing. He's a very good player and he's a very good professional. When he's not playing I am not happy. It hurts me. It is just a question of an option.
'Some players play a lot of matches but in a certain way. The way Lampard plays is not a certain way, it's his way - the 200 per cent way,' Mourinho said of our all-time record goalscorer. 'We have to control him, support him and understand the best way to get the best out of him.'
Mourinho sees no reason to add to his squad before the end of the season, and is happy he can bring a new man into his Champions League list ahead of the knockout stages, with a like-for-like replacement bolstering his midfield options.
'We start the season with this group and most probably we are going to end the season with this group. At the end of the season we will be in a better condition to analyse our squad, to analyse the market and to make a couple of changes to improve the team for next season.
'We have a plan, we have a board and we have financial rules that we have to obey and we have to follow, so we don't think an investment for players that cannot play in the Champions League is the correct one. We are ready to go to the end with the same people.
'I will change Marco van Ginkel with Essien in the Champions League squad list. We are going to try to find balances. Our squad is our squad. Instead of thinking about the market, we will think about trying to work and trying to improve the team.'