At his customary pre-match press conference this afternoon, and before setting off for the West Midlands with his squad, Jose Mourinho spoke of the threat posed by a game like ours at West Brom tomorrow. He also discussed Eden Hazard’s progress and addressed our transfer activity in the January window in the wake of claims made by Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini.
Our manager began, however, by giving a fitness update on a couple of key members of his squad, Fernando Torres and skipper John Terry.
‘John is still out but I expect him to play next weekend,’ reported Mourinho. ‘We are better than in the last match because Fernando is back and it is one more option for us.’
With injury news dealt with attention turned to tomorrow evening’s game at the Hawthorns, a ground we have had difficulties at in recent years. Despite the fact we face a West Brom side currently stationed in the relegation zone having not won since New Year’s Day, Mourinho explained how in England these are the kind of fixtures which can have a decisive bearing in the quest to finish top.
‘It will be difficult. The teams not in the top four will be very influential in the league. Everybody has an influence in the race. Every team is fighting for points and taking points from the big teams. Normally people are pushed to say games like Chelsea against Arsenal and Arsenal against City will decide things, but maybe they don’t.
‘We know that Barcelona v Real Madrid decides the title, but this is not the same situation. The title is decided match after match. This is the reality of this league. Every match is very difficult. Do I like to be top of the league? Yes, I like. Are we going to fight to stay there? Of course we are going to try to do that.
‘We are in the race, and we have been in the race since the beginning of the season. To say something about the end of the season is very difficult because between the first and the fourth we are speaking about six points. Six points is nothing when you have 13 matches to play and 39 points to play for, I think all the top four can win the title.’
Mourinho was asked for his thoughts on his counterpart tomorrow, Pepe Mel, who took over the Baggies last month after Steve Clarke was sacked.
‘I know him from Spain. When I arrived there he was with Real Betis in the second division. He was a champion and the next year he came to the first division and he did very well. Real Madrid lost to them in one game,’ recalled our manager.
‘He’s a coach that likes to play football, to play well, to pass the ball and keep possession of the ball. I don’t know if this is the way he wants to work with West Brom but he is a good coach and a good guy.’
After the trip to West Brom we are on the road again, this time at Manchester City in the FA Cup, a team we beat in our last midweek outing. Mourinho responded to claims made recently by their manager.
‘Pellegrini was making comments about the money we spent. He’s a fantastic coach and I respect that a lot, and on top of that outside his football career he is an engineer, and I don’t think an engineer needs a calculator.
‘In this transfer window Chelsea (made a big profit) to work with the Financial Fair Play. There are no arguments against that.’
The Portuguese also said City’s Yaya Toure should receive a retrospective ban for an incident in their goalless draw at Norwich on Saturday, reasoning that it would give the wrong idea to players if he was let off because they would think they could get away with things if the referee did not see them. The FA have since announced the Ivorian will not face disciplinary action.
Not for the first time this season Mourinho was asked about Eden Hazard, and the Belgian’s boss was able to give an insight into his development on the field of play but also away from football.
‘Off the pitch he’s a tremendous young guy, a very special guy. He is so young and such a family boy, married with kids without things that his generation normally want to do outside the job. He’s a completely stable boy.
‘On the pitch you can see the difference. He’s stronger physically, he’s stronger mentally. He likes to win, he tries to make the difference. He accepts the responsibility of being a team leader so he’s a better player. The reality is he is improving a lot and he is still a young boy.’