MOURINHO: CLOSING THE GAP
Jose Mourinho held his weekly press conference at Cobham ahead of tomorrow's London derby against Crystal Palace, with the Portuguese reporting that, as a precautionary measure, Gary Cahill will miss the match, while Cesar Azpilicueta will come back into the side, replacing Ashley Cole at left-back.
The Chelsea manager, looking for his side to bounce back from last weekend's defeat at Stoke City, addressed a wide range of topics, including the competitive edge of this season's Premier League, the return from injury of David Luiz and the current form of our opponents.
Firstly, however, he looked back on the Christmas period during his previous spell at the club and provided some squad news.
'I remember that we were successful in this period, we didn't lose matches and we had a few consecutive victories,' Mourinho said. 'I can remember that it was a successful period. We have to try to do the same, we know it's difficult, but it's difficult for us and everybody else.
'It's important to try not to kill some players by playing them in every minute of every game, even if they are important players for the team. My experience says it's important sometimes to give them a break and try to keep them in good condition.
'It's such a big accumulation of matches so it's important to try to keep them in good condition. I don't risk players so Cahill tomorrow is not involved. Is he injured? No, but he's almost injured, so we decided to kill the 'almost' and protect the little pain he's feeling in his quadriceps.'
The Blues boss then explained the reason behind his decision to bring Azpilicueta, who wasn't involved against Steaua Bucharest in midweek, back into the starting line-up, before giving an update on the fitness of Ryan Bertrand, who has a knee injury.
'I need the team to change, I need fresh people, I need Azpilicueta to play tomorrow and Ashley to be fresh to play at Sunderland,' he said.
'I'm not saying we have a compromise on that, I'm not saying it's a law that in this period it's one or the other one, I trust both and I choose the one I think is better for the occasion. It's good to have options.
'Bertrand's injured, he's been out of training for about two weeks and will probably need one more I guess, something like that.'
With little to choose between the six teams expected to be challenging for the title over the first part of the season, Mourinho expects the picture to become slightly clearer following the festive period, with many of those sides facing each other, starting this weekend.
'I think it's very difficult to predict the way things are going,' he said. 'One thing is if we beat Arsenal, another is if they beat us. We can close the gap but they can open the gap, and for the teams behind us it's the same.
'This weekend Tottenham play Liverpool so somebody loses points. We play Arsenal and somebody loses points, Arsenal play City and somebody loses points. We have to wait and see but five points is a gap which is not a drama. We have to make sure that gap doesn't open. Five points is a gap which, in one week, with two matches, everything can change. When it goes to eight, nine or 10 it becomes more difficult.
'Let's see if after Christmas we can say instead of six teams it's five. Maybe one team drops back or maybe one goes so far ahead they are impossible to reach. Between City and Chelsea we have a chance to make the Premier League even more interesting than it is already.
'We have difficult matches, tomorrow is a derby, Sunderland is a quarter-final, Swansea and Liverpool are important opponents at home, Arsenal are the leaders, on the first of January it's Southampton, one of the big surprise in the competition, so the schedule is tough and we have to try to be strong.'
David Luiz returned to the side against Steaua Bucharest on Wednesday, the Brazilian making his first appearance since the 2-0 defeat at Newcastle early last month.
With Cahill not available tomorrow, the 25 year old will once again partner John Terry in central defence, and Mourinho, who was pleased with his display against the Romanian side, is delighted to have him back.
'It was the performance of a player who has been out for a long time, not perfect but a good one, with no problems,' explained the Portuguese. 'For the first match after being away from the team for so long, and after only training with the team for two or three days before the game it was okay.
'His future is that he has a long term contract, there has been no contact from other clubs, so at this moment everything is clear. He's our player, we are so happy he's back, especially at a moment Cahill isn't playing so we need him and John to play a second game in a row.'
Tomorrow's game against the Eagles will be the first meeting between the sides since Mourinho led us to a 4-1 victory at Stamford Bridge in March 2005, en route to winning our first title in 50 years.
A poor start to the current campaign led to the departure of their former manager Ian Holloway, but Tony Pulis has had an immediate impact since taking charge, with Palace winning their last two games.
'They've been fantastic,' said Mourinho. 'Six points in two matches, they were bottom of the league and suddenly they are there, now they smell all the others and they are in contact with the other teams fighting relegation.
'Do they play beautiful football? That's another question. Do they try to play a certain style? That's another question, but the main question for them is to stay in the Premier League. They need points, they are playing for points and they are going to give us a difficult match in their style.'
Mourinho was also asked about the form of his three strikers, with the trio scoring four goals between them in the Premier League up to now.
'Some strikers are players with fantastic individual qualities and they can do on their own what their team is not able to do,' he said. 'The world has a lot of examples, teams that are not playing especially well, teams that, as a team, they are not better than their opponents but they have individual players that can be the solution.
'Our strikers are not individual players, they are more in the team organisation and in the team dynamic, they do other jobs, that's why I'm not critical of them.
'The number of goals of course is quite frustrating, not just for me but for them, but their contribution is good. The other guys who have been scoring, Hazard with six, Lampard with four, Schurrle with three, it's because of the work our strikers do.
'The other guys play with their strengths, which is super individual quality, the dribble, shot or sharp movement, so by themselves they resolve problems. We don't have this kind of striker and we have to be organised in a different way.
'Do I expect them to score a bit more? Yes. Do we need a bit more? Yes, but we can't compare players with different qualities.'
Pre-Match at the Bridge on Chelsea TV will have all the build-up ahead of tomorrow's game. The programme starts at 2pm and is free to view for Sky customers on channel 421.