It makes most Liverpool fans shudder to think that Jose Mourinho was one of the names linked with the coach’s job at Anfield two years ago after Gerard Houllier left the post. To put it bluntly, he’s just not the type of person who would fit in at Anfield. Liverpool fans would not stand for the arrogance he shows. There’s a method to what seems to be his madness, but it’s a method that would be unacceptable to most Reds.
For the third season in a row Liverpool face Chelsea in a major semi-final. And once again Jose Mourinho is using the media in an attempt to get some kind of advantage. Although this time it seems to be about more than just trying to unsettle the Reds – it’s almost as if he’s getting his excuses in early. Does Jose really fear the Liverpool team of 2007 as much as it sounds like he does?
First of all he claims Liverpool have had it easy for the past few weeks, meaning they are fresh and ready for the tie. He claims Chelsea have had it tough this past few weeks, with them being in the hunt – supposedly – for the league and also still being in the FA Cup. He says: “We are in a very similar situation to when we played Liverpool two years ago. Liverpool then were just playing for Champions League and this season they are playing only for Champions League. Two seasons ago when we played them, we were fighting to be Premiership champions and this season we are fighting to be champions again. The first season we had a lot of injuries and now we have a lot of injuries and a suspension.”
So Jose wants sympathy? Two seasons ago, like this season, Liverpool were still playing for a top-four finish. It may not be as attractive as aiming for the title, but nevertheless it’s an important target to aim for. The Reds missed out on that two years ago, but even this season they only reached that target on Saturday. The fact Rafa has been able to field changing line-ups in recent weeks is not down to a lack of importance of those games, it’s down to the fact that he has planned his squad to have as much quality in depth as he can afford. Liverpool have injuries too – Mourinho’s 2005 nightmare Luis Garcia for example – but Rafa’s planning has ensured that he has cover. Mourinho’s money has all gone on big names and has created a much smaller squad. As for suspensions – well that’s something we’ll come back to.
If his performance at Anfield in the league tie was anything to go by, Chelsea should be pleased that Michael Ballack has been ruled out for tonight’s match. Mourinho also claimed that Ricardo Carvalho was still doubtful although he did train yesterday. Michael Essien is suspended for tonight, but after being arrested at the weekend for alleged drink-driving there’s no guarantee he’d have been playing anyway.
One player missing through injury is Arjen Robben, who is renowned for play-acting and got Pepe Reina sent off and suspended for three games last season after his embarrassing theatrical dive to the ground at Stamford Bridge. Another player missing from past meetings is Eidur Gudjohnsen, another player who feigned injury to get a Liverpool player suspended. He’s now at Barcelona, but his dive in the first leg in 2005 ensured Xabi Alonso would miss the return leg. At the time Liverpool’s squad was smaller than today and that was an important player to lose. Gudjohnsen taunted Alonso after he’d seen he’d been successful in getting him booked, but of course Xabi had the last laugh that season.
Did Mourinho ask his players to get Xabi booked that season? Well it’s the kind of thing that crosses his mind, as he laughingly said yesterday: “It wouldn't surprise me if tomorrow they chase Drogba for 90 minutes, trying to get him suspended for the second game. So even on this they have different conditions than us.” Of course that kind of comment gives the referee a problem ahead of the game, although referee Marcus Merk should be strong enough not to let such comments cloud his judgement.
Two years ago these kinds of comments might have riled Liverpool’s staff, players and supporters. Like his infamous “shushing” gesture towards Liverpool fans did at Cardiff in 2005. These days it causes a certain amount of laughter. Jose likes to hear people laugh with him, but this kind of things makes people laugh at him.
Mourinho went on (and on) about his the awful situation his side have found themselves in of late: “We can say that our opponent has been preparing this game for a long, long time and we are preparing since yesterday. So we are as well equipped as we were two years ago but in football, you never know. Two years ago we couldn't reach the Final.”
As well as including a large squad as part of his plans, Rafa also trains his players in a way that will see them through the season. In fact this has been considered a possible reason for some why the Reds were so lacklustre earlier on in the season – they were being overtrained! Whether that’s true or not as an excuse for those defeats is uncertain, but tiredness does not seem to be showing in any of the performances put in of late. Not the case at Chelsea though, where Jose seems to be having troubles: “It is obvious that tiredness is important. In this moment of the season, legs and power are absolutely crucial. In this moment, many, many things are decided by that and not by the qualities players have shown during the season.”
Jose’s comments are also designed to try and belittle Liverpool. Chelsea have won the Carling Cup, and are in the final of the FA Cup. They do seem to have thrown away their chances of winning the league but there’s no argument that at this moment in time they’ve had a very successful season. So Jose tries a double-blast at Liverpool by claiming that they’ve now become favourites for the tie, because Chelsea have just too much on: “Chelsea and Man United are the two teams in Europe living on the one side, a happy moment because we are in every competition. On the other side, we are living a very difficult moment to face all we have to face. So if you ask me about the favourites tomorrow, I don't like very much the word, but if you push me, at this moment, I would say Liverpool should be the favourite.”
Mourinho went into more detail about why Chelsea have had it so tough: “In the year of 2007, we have played 27 matches when mentally every game is high responsibility. Of course Liverpool have also played 21, 22 matches but they rest players. Gerrard didn't play the last game. Do you think Gerrard and Lampard have the same conditions to compete one against one against each other tomorrow? I don't think it will be a fair fight because the conditions are different.” Many Reds would argue that a fight between Lampard and Gerrard could never be fair, because Gerrard is by far the better player.
Rafa himself has admitted that his squad are perfect for knockout football, and has told the club’s new owners as much in the hope they will help him to turn the club into title contenders once again. Mourinho has spotted this too: “Liverpool are a great team in knockout competitions, we have to praise them for that. But if you only play one competition for half of the season, you arrive into this crucial part of the season in a great situation for this.” So is Jose now trying to say Liverpool got themselves knocked out of the two domestic trophies on purpose, after also deliberately performing badly in the first half of the league season, just to save themselves for the Champions League? He probably doesn’t know what he’s saying himself!
There was even a dig at Rafa’s record since arriving at Anfield. He was asked if he thought he’d still be Chelsea boss if he’d had the same record at Chelsea as Rafa had at Anfield: “I think you should ask Mr. Buck (Chelsea chairman), but three years without a Premiership, I don't think so!”
And then it was back to how easy Liverpool have had it: “The game before they played Barcelona, Liverpool was one week in Portugal, preparing the game. In that week we played three matches. We have had two cup games against Tottenham, extra-time against Blackburn and two tough games against Valencia – we didn't play against PSV.”
It is comical, and it made me laugh, but perhaps that’s the idea. There is no way that either manager can claim this will be an easy tie to win. On their day either side are capable of winning with quite a large margin, especially if one side has to start chasing the game. Jose finally admitted this: “It is a completely different power to fight, but if you ask me can we win, I say yes. We think we can win.”
And despite all of his claims about being underdogs and too tired to compete, that is the truth about how Jose feels tonight's match will go.