Chelsea on Champions League alert against old friend Jose Mourinho

20 February 2010 06:09
However much of an act he assumes before the visit of Chelsea, Inter Milan's coach will be stirred inside. For Mourinho, this fixture is the special one.

In the build-up to Wednesday's reunion, Mourinho will hold court at Appiano Gentile, Inter's graceful retreat, and talk of his respect for Chelsea, of his professional approach to this round-of-16 Champions League tie. Before the heat of this sporting battle, Mourinho will claim he has ice in his veins but this member of European football's managerial royalty will always have blue blood.

 Related ArticlesSneijder better than Beckham?Alan Smith: Chelsea warning timelyChelsea players warned over lurid headlinesTheatre of Dreams from 1910Wenger puts Uefa on the spotSport on televisionThe memories of his remarkable reign on the King's Road from June 2 2004 to Sep 20 2007 will always be with Mourinho. More than any other club, even the Porto side whom he guided to unexpected glory in the 2004 Champions League final, Chelsea got under Mourinho's skin.

He loved it at Stamford Bridge, revelled in the adoration of the Shed and Matthew Harding Stand. Chelsea fans will doubtless salute him. Mourinho enjoyed London, apart from when the dog squad raided.

He found the media far more appreciative of his verbal pyrotechnics than they would be in Italy. Sadly, and this will always be a blot on both characters' elevated standing in Chelsea history, Mourinho and Roman Abramovich fell out.

Residents of the Bridge dressing room such as Florent Malouda still admit to a sadness over Mourinho's exit. "Yes, because he did a great job so I didn't understand,'' reflected the intelligent French attacker.

"I wanted to come [to Chelsea from Lyons in 2007] because Jose brought trophies here and I wanted to be part of it. I had the impression that Chelsea were strong and could beat anybody and were having great results. I was surprised there were problems.''

Chelsea have taken time to recover, needing to bring in Carlo Ancelotti to become a force challenging for the major prizes again, a reality freighting this tie with such significance. If Mourinho masterminds Ancelotti's defeat, then his celebration at the Bridge on March 16 will be fascinating to behold.

Will he show respect to Chelsea, to an old flame, throwing his dream-coat into the crowd or will he just dance down the touchline, waving dismissively to Abramovich?

However he responds, and Mourinho is the king of unpredictability, the emotions will be flowing. His departure hurt. On assuming control of Inter on July 1 2008, Mourinho declared that he would "always, always, always support Chelsea but if Chelsea meet Inter in the Champions League then I won't know any of them''. Mourinho meant that old friends would be strangers in the night.

Really? As Mourinho stands by the technical area of the San Siro, watching his former players warm up before kick-off, will he really not embrace Frank Lampard as he runs past? In the parlance of modern psychologists, "they shared a journey together'', and will go to the grave remembering the impact they had on each others' lives.

Lampard matured into an accomplished all-round midfield talent under Mourinho, gaining in confidence and the knowledge of when to time runs to punish opponents.

Lampard ran his heart out for Mourinho, helping drive Chelsea to titles in 2005 and 2006, the 2007 FA Cup, League Cups in 2005 and 2007 and what Uefa bureaucrats describe as the "English Super Cup'', more commonly known as the Community Shield, in 2005.

So, how can Mourinho claim he "won't know'' Lampard? He even considered buying him for Inter. How can he not know Didier Drogba? The Portuguese Pied Piper wanted Drogba to follow him to Italy. The Ivory Coast striker was brilliant under Mourinho, relishing the tactical framework created to use his strengths most fully.

Will Mourinho not know Ricardo Carvalho? This is his compatriot, his former Porto centre-half and the Chelsea defender who most plays the lightning thief when opponents have possession. Carvalho was another trusted soul whom Mourinho hoped might join his San Siro adventure.

Even Joe Cole, oft criticised by Mourinho for not tracking back, played the most effective football of his career under the Special One, rising to sustained England recognition. Look at Cole now, a shadow of the assertive attacker he was under Mourinho.

Towards the end, John Terry had some differences with Mourinho but knows the debt he owes this alchemist with the loosely-knotted tie. Chelsea were drifting under Claudio Ranieri. Then Mourinho swaggered in, sharpening everything from concentration to intensity of football, making Terry twice the captain of a title-winning side.

Terry and Carvalho, Lampard, Drogba and Malouda will need to be on their mettle against Mourinho. Of the three assignments set English clubs in the first knockout stage of the Champions League, Chelsea's always looked the hardest. The best team in Italy boast a high tempo in possession that could trouble Ancelotti's side.

Inter see far less of the ball than most teams in Europe, keeping possession for an average 28 minutes per game, contrasting with Barcelona (50), Arsenal (36), United (35) and Chelsea (31).

But when they break, when Maicon triggers an attack and Mario Balotelli or Samuel Eto'o take up the running, Inter are a blur of black-and-blue movement hurtling towards goal. Chelsea should prevail over the two legs, partly because they are fuelled by a sense of injustice following last season's refereeing debacle against Barcelona, but they will need all their leaders.

Mourinho might not appreciate the irony but the greatest menace to Inter are those he moulded into men of iron. "There are leaders in the team who take responsibility like Terry, Lamps, Didier,'' said Malouda.

"When you came to the big games with the pressure on, they say: 'OK. I'll take the lead. Follow me'.'' Chelsea now challenge the man they used to follow.

Mourinho will pick up the gauntlet without demur. An eventful, emotional tie awaits.

Source: Telegraph

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