Seven straight wins is reason to be pretty happy with life for a football manager, but that was not the reason there was champagne at Jose Mourinho’s media conference ahead of the West Ham game.
The Portuguese was in fact sharing a bottle with the assembled reporters to belatedly celebrate his 51st birthday which fell on the day of the win over Stoke. It led to the natural question of whether the bubbly was a dress rehearsal for later in the season, and although Mourinho played down Chelsea’s chances of league championship success this campaign, targets are still being met.
‘I don’t think so,’ he said on the suggestion of Premier League champagne in May.
‘We have to drink champagne because we are improving a lot, the team and the players, so the prospects of champagne in the future are good. We are going in a good direction.
‘We are playing well,’ he added. ‘The last game against Stoke was a 1-0 but a good 1-0. There was quality individually and collectively, and we defended and pressed well also. You never know what is going to happen in the next match but the results are arriving as a consequence of the team playing very good football.
‘We have to try to keep the good form we have and let things happen naturally. I’ve always said since the beginning of the season that the main objective this season is to build a team, and the best way to build a team is to compete for things.
‘When you play Europa League there is no evolution. When you play in the Premier League 20 points behind the leader, no evolution. Evolution comes at the same time you build a team and you have serious competition.
‘We need this. We need to be top three or four and we need to play against Manchester City only one, two or three points behind. We need to feel what the Champions League knockout is like because some of the players have only played the group stage.
These things are coming to us so I can believe next season we are going to be a really strong team from day one.’
Part of the reason Mourinho is confident for the future is that a suitable squad is already largely together, give or take the couple of players it is usual for any big club to change each year. He describes his squad as already better balanced now one of a collection of players who can play on the wing or ‘no.10’ has made way for the deeper-lying Nemanja Matic to come in.
He ruled out any more arrivals before the window closes on Friday unless an incredible and surprising deal happens for one of our existing players. Looking further to the future, Mourinho didn’t discount Samuel Eto’o staying at Stamford Bridge for a second year but that decision will be taken by all involved much later on.
On Michael Essien, who left Chelsea for AC Milan yesterday, he said:
‘He’s a player everyone loves in this club but it is a fantastic situation for him and we didn’t want to stop him. He deserved that the club let him go on a free transfer and with Matic we covered the situation in midfield and we could let Michael go.’
Our manager emphasised that he is currently instructing his players to simply concentrate on winning each next game, which this week means taking three points from the meeting between the side third in the Barclays Premier League and the one third from bottom. Mourinho is paying little attention to those positions as he prepares to face Sam Allardyce’s side.
‘West Ham are in trouble in the table but I look at them and I feel a difficult match,’ he said.
‘They have new players, and they have had time to work and rest from the difficult Christmas period they had, especially because they had so many injured players.’
Mohamed Salah will not be in the squad for the game. The manager said the new signing from Basel will arrive in England later this week, but it will not be in time to be considered for the league game against London rivals.
Fernando Torres is also ruled out. The striker needs another couple of weeks to recover from a knee injury. Mourinho also had news of Marco van Ginkel, the young Dutchman who is recovering from cruciate surgery.
‘Marco is doing so well,’ he said, ‘and maybe plays with the U21s at the end of March or beginning of April, but not for the first team this season.’