Sunday 21 January 2018

Mourinho fears 'big contenders' Tottenham but is not losing sleep over rift with AVB

Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho

Henry Winter

Jose Mourinho fears Tottenham Hotspur more than he fears their head coach, his former protege Andre Villas-Boas. On the eve of today's meeting at White Hart Lane, Chelsea's manager described Spurs as "big contenders" for the title but also a "very good defensive team" in a clear dig at Villas-Boas' avowed "attacking philosophy".

Villas-Boas, who spent seven years working for Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, insisted that he had "not lost any sleep" over the "breakdown" in their once-close relationship, remarks that influenced, if not dominated, Mourinho's 44-minute public discourse after training at Cobham yesterday.

Throughout, Mourinho gave the impression that he would not be pinning clippings of Villas-Boas' criticism to the dressing-room door today, only their respective resumes. He talked of the great stages he has experienced, like Champions League finals, of the "many assistants" he has employed, yet mixed with these barbs was Mourinho's unmistakable concern about Spurs.

Chelsea usually travel confidently to a place their fans call "Three Point Lane" so Mourinho's circumspection was unexpected. He did not particularly appreciate a "powerhouse" comparison between Spurs 2013 and his Chelsea champions of 2005 and 2006, saying "all teams are different", but he focused heavily on Spurs' strength seen in the midfield of Paulinho and Mousa Dembele.

"They are physical,'' said Mourinho. "I don't just mean big and strong people but fast and intensive people. At the same time, I think they build a very good defensive team. They defend very well. The first thing they think about is to be solid and build a very strong defensive team."

Spurs do boast an excellent defensive record, conceding only Olivier Giroud's goal in 450 Premier League minutes, but Mourinho's dismissive appraisal ignored the presence of creative individuals such as Christian Eriksen in the hole, Erik Lamela out wide and Kyle Walker driving down the flank. Mourinho's verdict followed comments from Villas-Boas that "my philosophy is to have attacking teams that have initiative in the game, that like to keep the ball''.

Mourinho rejected Spurs' complaints that Chelsea ambushed their deal for Willian. "The kid always had the dream to play for Chelsea,'' said Mourinho. He did acknowledge that Spurs were title contenders because "they were the champions of the market'' this summer, buying "players with quality".

Mourinho noted that Spurs had swapped their over-reliance on Gareth Bale for a "very, very good" squad.

Mourinho continued with the little jabs, saying he preferred "the professional way" he and his former mentor at Barcelona, Bayern Munich's Louis van Gaal, behaved towards each other before and during the 2010 Champions League final. "That's the way you have to do it," he said, adding "I don't care about what he (Villas-Boas) says. I'm not a 'kid' to discuss these kind of things with the media.''

A brief debate ensued over what Mourinho meant by "kid". To some of his audience, Mourinho was belittling Villas-Boas; to others, he was saying it would be childish of him to respond.

Mourinho argued that anyone with an issue with him, like Villas-Boas, should deal with the problem face to face. "My parents taught me that: if you have a problem with somebody you should try and resolve it yourself rather than bringing it home and asking us. Between players is the same thing. I'm the dad of the dressing-room and I don't want things coming to the dad all the time. Things should be resolved between brothers."

Some avoided confrontation with Mourinho out of fear. "Just because of my ugly face, not because of my personality!"

Mourinho argued that the Premier League was easier to win than La Liga. "Spain is not a very good championship but it's the most difficult to win. If you are Real Madrid or Barcelona you win every game. In England you have to be very strong to be competing every fixture."

A journey through the merits of the leagues he has coached in concludes with a jab at Villas-Boas, who won the Europa League at Porto, not the Champions League as Mourinho did.

Juan Mata, a player who arrived at Chelsea during Villas-Boas' brief tenure, could feature today after Mourinho indicated that the Spaniard worked harder off the ball against Swindon Town.

As for others needing to come in Mourinho's tactical "direction", David Luiz did "a little bit" and Kevin De Bruyne "not so much" in the League Cup win over Swindon.

As he returned to focus on the league, Mourinho smiled that he does not even have the toughest role in his own family. "My wife's job is the most difficult job of the four of us. To be mum 24 hours per day, and the wife of a football manager, is not the easiest thing. The kids have the most enjoyable lives, school and freedom. And my life is fantastic." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Tottenham v Chelsea, Live, BT Sport 1 and Setanta Sports, 12.45

Irish Independent

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