MOURINHO: PROGRESS TO BE MADE

Jose Mourinho has been discussing the availability of an injured trio ahead of what he expects to be a very difficult game against Sunderland tomorrow.

The manager reported that Samuel Eto’o had trained with the squad yesterday and was in contention to play at the Stadium of Light. The Cameroonian was injured in last week’s defeat to Basel and was expected to be out for around two weeks, but Mourinho was pleased to announce his recovery was quicker than expected. He also had news on the Brazilian duo of Oscar and David Luiz.

‘Eto’o is back training with the team,’ said Mourinho. ‘I will have to see today but he looks fine. There is a chance he can play tomorrow.

‘Oscar is not in condition to play, but his injury is not a serious one. David Luiz is not training with the team, he is still with the medical department. Let’s see for the weekend. I hope sooner or later I have David so I can rotate a little back at the back, like I can in other positions.’

With a third of the league season now passed, the Portuguese was asked by a member of the press how he felt his side had developed since he took over in the summer.

‘There is a lot of progress to be made,’ the manager reflected.

‘There are things in the job that are not easy, and one of those things is to make the pressure of fighting for the title become something natural, something the players accept in a positive way.

‘Here we have some people that have won the title before but not for quite a long time, and when you don’t win it for quite a long time you forget it.

‘We have other people that have played in clubs that are not used to fighting for titles, it is just about doing fantastically today and not worrying about tomorrow or any big responsibilities.

‘You have to learn how to live with the pressure of trying to be top of the league, how to fight until the last moment, knowing that every detail of every game can make a difference in the end. It’s a process, not something you do with a click.’

Mourinho had words of support for one man who has won it all before, but has been out of the team in recent games.

‘I think Ashley Cole will start one of these two matches, against Sunderland or Stoke,’ the manager reported.

‘When any player that, all his career, normally starts every game doesn’t, naturally they are not the happiest guy in the camp, but Ashley is always professional, always a team player, so he deserves to play.’

A second league game of seven in December takes us to the north-east to face Sunderland, now managed by former Blue Gustavo Poyet. Consecutive home successes, against local rivals Newcastle and title challengers Manchester City, leaves Mourinho in no doubt as to how stern tomorrow’s test will be, in a month that could start outlining which of the six teams the manager thinks can win the title breaks ahead of the rest.

‘Sunderland are better than the number of points they have. The quality of the players is not comparable with some teams that are in that part of the table.

‘I don’t think they can play in a defensive way where they just try to get a point. They have a positive approach because they need to win matches and I think Gustavo’s style is to try to play good football. You can see the way they are trying to play.

‘There is a lot to play for in December and in the beginning of January. After that we can have a look and see if somebody from the six can open a real gap.

‘I don’t think we can speak about favourites. All the six teams are title contenders. This moment until the end of the year is a moment not to decide, but to clarify the situation.’

NEWSFLASH: ETO'O IN CONTENTION, OSCAR AND DAVID LUIZ OUT

Speaking to the press before tomorrow’s trip to Sunderland, Jose Mourinho confirmed that Samuel Eto’o is back in training and has a chance of playing at the Stadium of Light.

The manager had originally ruled the Cameroonian out for two weeks after he was injured in last week’s defeat to Basel, but Mourinho said his recovery has been quicker than expected and he will make a decision after this afternoon’s training session.

In other injury news, Mourinho said that the Brazilian duo of Oscar and David Luiz will not be ready for the trip to the north-east.

We will have a full report on the manager’s pre-match press conference later today.

PAT NEVIN: FLEXIBLE FOOTBALL

Having watched the team return to winning ways at the weekend, columnist Pat Nevin looks at answers being found with adaptability…

There were lots of positives and maybe one or two negatives following the weekend’s win over Southampton. On the negative side, maybe the biggest concern was the loss of Oscar to an injury. We really do need as many bodies as possible this month and he isn’t a player you want to lose, but also not one you would want to take a chance on by playing him when he isn’t fully recovered. The medical team will work on him, but the thin line between working to get him back and rushing him too much will be severely tested over the next few games.

Certainly on the positive side, having Juan Mata ready, willing, able and pretty fresh and desperate to please is a huge bonus. He certainly played his part against the Saints, but it was a superb team effort in the second half that needed sheer force of will to break the visitors down. Actually sheer physical force came into it too, when the brawn of Demba Ba and the renewed power machine that is Fernando Torres terrorised their defence more and more as the game wore on.

Much has been made of the Southampton high intensity pressing this season but it was actually Arsene Wenger the other week who seemed to find a pretty simple answer to it. If five players close you down in your own area, then forget about trying to pass it round them, just lump it long, miss them out, leave them stranded and take it from where the balls lands. Yes, amazingly, Arsenal played the long ball game in patches against Southampton and it negated almost all of their strengths.

So when we needed to change it was easy to try a similar (although I stress not exactly the same) tactic and system adaptation. When Chelsea went two up front it was effectively a 4-2-4 formation with Hazard and Mata wide while Fernando and Demba bullied their centre-backs. This leaves the midfield open, or it should do, but the work rate of the two lads left in there was astounding. Ramires in particular was chasing and tackling everything that moved. At one point I thought the referee was in danger from the Brazilian when the ball ran past the whistler. His assist for the final goal just summed up how much effort he had put into the match.

I’ll be honest, after watching him against Basel last week I really thought he looked jaded; in dire need of a rest. He was arriving late for tackles, miscontrolling everything, the passing was ragged and most worryingly of all, his running powers looked almost human instead of the usual superhuman. Well maybe we can put that down to a bad day at the office, or as I suspect the travelling and the games finally catching up with him. For the rest of the month, though there are lots of games, at least there are no trips round the planet to meet up with the national team.

It also helps that six of the nine games this month are in London and then Stoke isn’t exactly the end of the planet, so it is only the two Sunderland jaunts that are a chore. For many of our players this will be a welcome boost. Jet lag can hit you at any time after you have flown. It just seems to have hit quite a few of the lads at the same time over in Switzerland.

I mentioned the fact that Jose went 4-4-2 against Sunderland to great effect almost as a passing comment. In fact it is pretty radical to play that system these days. When I played, and that wasn’t yesterday, 4-2-4 changing to 4-4-2 when you lost possession was de rigeur.But things moved on and almost no one at the very top level has used it for a few years. I do remember Sir Alex Ferguson lining his team up like that against us in Moscow, but other than that it is generally considered passé.

In fact there is no reason not to play the system when you have the personnel and you absolutely need to win the match, it is ultra-positive after all. This radical adaptability has generally worked well for Jose and Chelsea this season. Situations do not always arise when these tactics can be used but there have been at least three glaring examples of when our manager has made extraordinary system changes that have directly won us games this season.

Clearly Sunday was one such occasion that is impossible to argue with. Then there was the change against Norwich City at Carrow Road when Ashley Cole was taken off, Eden Hazard came on in his place, Andre Schurrle was then asked to patrol the entire left side leading to total confusion for Chrissy Hughton’s side. More glaringly, and I have talked about this before, against Cardiff City at home when we sacrificed Bertrand for Torres and went for a daring 3-2-3-2 formation. Minutes later the game was won, the 4-2-3-1 as restored and we cruised to the victory.

Very few mangers are so flexible and inventive in so many different ways and at such speed. What Jose will be delighted with however is the flexibility of the players.Is Ramires a deep-lying midfielder or a galloping marauder in the opposition half flying past his own forwards? Well he can of course be both. Is Frank Lampard the best attacking midfield scorer in world football or is he a controlling influence in front of the back four? Well it depends on what the manger asks him to be as he can comfortably be either.What about Azpilicueta is a he a second choice right full-back, or is he a left full-back who is capable of keeping a man, who has arguably been the world’s best left back for over a decade, out of the team?

This adaptability allows the manager flexibility in his systems. Now if he can just make David Luiz the player I believe he can be and sometimes is, then I suspect we could be close to unstoppable.

Last week’s quiz question was who has played the most combined games for Chelsea and Southampton? Was it Peter Osgood, Graeme Le Saux, Ken Monkou, Kerry Dixon, Dave Beasant, Dennis Wise, Dennis Rofe, David Speedie, Dave Webb and or a number of others who donned both shirts?

The correct answer is Peter Osgood (again), with Kerry, Wisey and Webby not far behind. Only one winner as ever and this week it is Danny Jackson from Middlesex, the prize will be on its way soon.

This week to have a chance of being the lucky winner of a prize signed by one of the players, could you tell me who has the record of scoring the most combined goals for ourselves and tomorrow night’s opponents Sunderland? (The player has to have played for both teams obviously). Answers as ever to me at pat.nevin@chelseafc.com

Good luck to you with that and to the team tomorrow. This would actually be quite a good time to go on a little run don’t you think?

UNDER-21 REPORT: NEWCASTLE UNITED 1 CHELSEA 1

Summary
A first-half equaliser from Jeremie Boga ensured the Chelsea Under-21 team took a point back home from our trip to Newcastle, cancelling out striker Adam Campbell’s opener inside a quarter of an hour.

However, despite second-half pressure from the visitors at St James’ Park, Dermot Drummy’s side couldn’t find a winner and ultimately had to settle for a share of the league points.

Team news
Drummy made three changes from the side that drew 3-3 with West Ham at Aldershot in the last league outing for the Under-21s, with Jamal Blackman replacing Mitchell Beeney in goal, Andreas Christensen returning to centre-back in place of Kenneth Omeruo and Isaiah Brown returning to the starting line-up as Billy Clifford dropped out.

Captain Nathan Ake partnered Christensen in defence, with Fankaty Dabo and Kevin Wright supporting from right-back and left-back respectively, while Lewis Baker, John Swift and Boga made up the midfield trio. Islam Feruz led the line up front, with Alex Kiwomya and Brown providing assistance from the flanks.

Newcastle fielded seven starters with first team football experience this season, totalling 24 appearances, with Gabriel Obertan, Sammy Ameobi, Gael Bigirimana and Sylvain Marveaux among them.

First half
The visitors settled quickly inside the opening ten minutes, moving the ball well from defence through the midfield and into the likes of Swift, Brown and Kiwomya in the final third. Brown had the game’s first chance, having been supplied out on the left by Swift, but sliced harmlessly wide after cutting inside the defender, before Boga headed clear the first corner of the match as Newcastle responded.

Feruz was then handed a sight of goal after a mistake at the back from Bigirimana. However, Curtis Good was quick and alert in his response, charging down the striker and blocking his well-struck effort on goal. The resultant corner was delivered into a dangerous area and, following an aerial scramble, the hosts required a clearance off the line to keep the early scores level.

The deadlock was broken inside 15 minutes, however, and it was Newcastle who grabbed the advantage, somewhat against the run of the early play. Having fashioned their first neat move of the game, shifting the ball quickly on the edge of the Chelsea box, Campbell made no mistake from 15 yards, toe-poking beyond Blackman into the bottom corner.

That early advantage buoyed the young Magpies and they went on to enjoy a spell of control as Chelsea took time to recover from the blow. Obertan used his trickery and burst of pace over the first few yards to beat Wright down the right flank and deliver a high ball to the back post, though Ameobi could only head over under pressure in the air.

Brown then worked an opportunity for himself down the left, beating a couple of defenders to find some space coming into the penalty area at a narrow angle from the flank. However, with Feruz holding his run and positioned well, Brown opted to go alone and was denied by a good stop by the onrushing Jak Alnwick in the Newcastle goal.

The young Blues were struggling to regain a foothold in the game, with the Newcastle midfield trio of Marveaux, Brandon Miele and Bigirimana enjoying plenty of possession in the middle of the field, and various opportunities for counter-attacks on the break disintegrated before they had really been initiated by the visitors.

Feruz was presented with a chance as confusion between defenders and goalkeeper allowed Brown to tee up the striker, but with Alnwick poorly positioned after the mix-up, Feruz’s powerful effort lacked accuracy and flew wide into the Gallowgate end.

At the other end, Christensen had to be alert as Campbell attempted to latch on to a good ball forward inside the right channel, and the Danish Under-21 international did well to track the forward and block behind for a corner, from which the ball evaded almost everybody in arriving at the far post, though Paul Dummett couldn’t connect with any real conviction. Blackman was then forced into a good save down low to his right as Ameobi stayed onside and struck a decent effort towards the bottom corner.

Alnwick then denied Brown as the game opened up and the action swung from end to end, before Baker’s excellent arrowing effort from 25 yards was tipped over by the home goalkeeper for a corner. That pressure was a prelude to a Chelsea equaliser that came five minutes before the interval.

Christensen pushed forward from the back and his enterprising foray into the Newcastle penalty area caused problems, with the loose ball falling to Boga on the edge of the box. The young Frenchman was quickly on to the opportunity and finished expertly, high and beyond Alnwick, to level the scores and bag his first Under-21 goal of the season.

It was a reward at the end of a first half in which the visitors had competed strongly with a far more experienced side, and Boga could have grabbed a second moments before the break after an exciting move involving Kiwomya and Feruz, though he fired the chance wide.

Second half
Newcastle started the second period very brightly and could have been back ahead inside the opening minute as Marveaux found himself in behind the Blues defence and bearing down on goal, though Blackman was quick off his line and spread himself well to deny the 27-year-old Frenchman, with Wright equally alert to clear the loose ball.

That chance was one of the rare openings in the first quarter of an hour of the second half, as Chelsea were forced to build up their attacking play patiently from the back, working the ball from side to side waiting for the opportunity, but failing to break through the hosts’ rearguard.

Swift had a chance from a free-kick, though hit his effort too central and Alnwick gathered comfortably, before Brown bent a shot narrowly over from just outside the box. Down the other end, Christensen blocked well from Bigirimana’s strike as both sides looked for a second goal that could win the game.

Campbell and Swift both then had harmless shots wide as the visitors began to assert their authority on the game though, despite the threat of Boga, Swift and Brown breaking forwards, clear-cut chances on goal were still few and far between.

Bigirimana fashioned one such opening, finding Campbell with an excellent ball forward, though a combination of strong defending from the centre-backs Christensen and Ake nullified the threat and saw the ball behind for a corner, from which Good forced a routine save from Blackman.

Brown and Baker then combined down the left to work some space for a delivery, though neither the lurking Feruz nor Boga could turn the low centre from Baker towards goal. Yet it was Chelsea pushing forward for a late winner as the match entered the final quarter of an hour, with Alnwick having to be speedy off his line and brave to deny Kiwomya after the winger benefited from a fortunate break off the defender as he moved towards goal.

With the final whistle looming it was the visitors pushing forward and looking most likely to snatch a winning goal, though Feruz’s decision to shoot rather than use supporting options was bemoaned as his shot once again failed to hit the target.

Baker’s exquisite ball through for Kiwomya on the right flank allowed the wideman a chance to deliver, though once again a low centre across goal evaded the attackers in the area, and it was the hosts who were to go closest in the final few minutes of the game.

Substitute Rolando Aarons found Campbell’s clever run off the defenders and the striker was in the clear, though he couldn’t add to his first-half opener as he screwed his final effort wide of the near post. That was to prove to be the game’s final opportunity as both sides had to settle for a point.

Next up for the Under-21 side is a trip to Cardiff City in the inaugural Under-21 Cup this Friday, December 6, a game that can be seen live on Chelsea TV.

Manager reaction
There were mixed feelings for manager Drummy after a game in which his side had chances to grab all three points, despite playing against a side with far more first team experience among their ranks.

Speaking to the official Chelsea website, he said: ‘They put out six first team players and we had a team of Under-19s, plus Jamal Blackman, so you have to be pleased with the effort, work-rate and concentration from our boys. If we’d have taken our chances at the end we would have won the game.

‘In terms of experience, these boys have played against the next level today and we had to be mentally concentrated off the ball, which is something we’ve been working on, so I was really pleased with that.

‘We don’t worry about going behind in games. We believe in the way we play, but you have to be organised off the ball as well and that was most pleasing today. We probably restricted them to three or four chances all game and we’ve had a number of chances ourselves in the second half.

‘We played some great attacking football and controlled the game in periods, and when we didn’t control it we were organised in our positions, so I’m really pleased with the experience.’

Chelsea (4-3-3): Jamal Blackman; Fankaty Dabo, Andreas Christensen, Nathan Ake (c), Kevin Wright; Lewis Baker, John Swift, Jeremie Boga; Alex Kiwomya, Isaiah Brown, Islam Feruz.
Unused subs: Mitchell Beeney, Alex Davey, Adam Nditi, Isak Ssewankambo, Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Newcastle: Jak Alnwick; Lubomir Satka, Massadio Haidara (Macauley Gillesphey 82), Gael Bigirimana, Curtis Good, Paul Dummett, Gabriel Obertan (c), Brandon Miele, Adam Campbell, Sylvain Marveaux (Rolando Aarons 73), Sammy Ameobi (Tom Heardman 82).
Unused subs: Jonathan Mitchell, James Morgan.

CAHILL: BUILDING MOMENTUM

Gary Cahill felt the fact we came from behind to beat Southampton 3-1 at Stamford Bridge made the victory all the more pleasing.

The Blues trailed after conceding a Jay Rodriguez goal inside 13 seconds, but Cahill equalised early in the second half with his first of the season, adjusting his body to head home after Demba Ba had hit the post.

Goals from John Terry and Ba secured the three points, and Cahill was delighted with the way we responded to suffering an early setback.

‘It was a terrible start for us, one of the worst you can imagine in a game, but you just have to pretend it hasn’t happened because there’s nothing you can do about it,’ he said.

‘We still had 89 minutes to turn the game around and put it right. It was far from ideal because it puts them on the front foot and gives them a bit of confidence, but in the end it made the victory even better because we showed great character in the second half to get the goals and get the win.

‘It was a very important win. When you lose a game you always look to bounce back with a victory. We were under a little bit of pressure because we saw the other scores, so we knew we had to get a result.’

The Blues defender acknowledged that the manager’s calming words at the interval helped the players approach the second half in the right manner.

‘He stressed not to really worry about the first half in the sense of we had the second half to go and change what had happened, and we went out and did that and we were pleased that the second-half performance was good,’ he said.

‘The keeper [Artur Boruc] pulled off a couple of great saves in the first half as well so we could have gone in level but the second-half performance was a lot better.’

Cahill is usually no stranger to the scoresheet, but his first goal of the season certainly couldn’t have been timed any better.

‘I would have taken anything but Demba got a touch, it came back off the post and I got a back header and I was delighted to see that go on in because it has been a while I have not scored,’ he explained.

‘We’re about trying to get clean sheets but it’s also a bonus if you can contribute with a few goals, and between myself, Iva, JT and David we contributed a lot last season. Hopefully it will be the same this time, it’s been a while since I scored so I was really pleased to get the equaliser today.’

The game against Mauricio Pochettino’s side marked the start of a week in which we now face consecutive away matches against Sunderland and Stoke City.

Cahill, though, is confident we can build on two successive Premier League wins.

‘We have some very tough games but you can also look at them as opportunities to keep the momentum going,’ he said.

‘Maybe the consistency isn’t quite there but we’re still in the Capital One Cup, we’ve qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League and we’re pushing near the top of the table, so it’s not all doom and gloom.’