Tuesday 21 November 2017

Chelsea stroll in long shadow of Special reunion

Chelsea 4
West Ham 1

Henry Winter

JOSE MOURINHO'S return to the Bridge is fast becoming the biggest theatrical number in London since Andrew Lloyd Webber discovered cats could sing.

"It is really not a big theme in the dressing-room, you know,'' sighed Michael Ballack of Mourinho's second coming.

Really? "Of course it is a special moment that we play against him.''

Exactly. Within minutes of Ballack and Co concluding victory over West Ham, the talk was of this looming "special moment'' with the Special One.

When Mourinho steps out for training with Inter Milan at the Bridge this evening, and particularly when he takes his place in the away dugout tomorrow, all the memories will come flooding back of the coat, the swagger, the silverware.

Yet this is so much more than a happy hour for those who drink deeply from the cup of nostalgia. This tie shapes the future. Chelsea's current manager, the widely regarded Carlo Ancelotti, cannot allow a name from the past to become his nemesis.

"This is Chelsea against Inter, not me against Mourinho,'' Ancelotti stressed.

"I have never had a problem with Mourinho. Before the game Mourinho will have a very good reception but as soon as the game starts, Chelsea fans will support their team.

"We want to show our best. All the world will be looking at this game and that for us is a fantastic motivation for us. The Champions League is my favourite competition."

No wonder. Ancelotti has won it twice as a coach and twice as a player (in its European Cup splendour).

Ballack pointed out that times change, that the Mourinho era "has gone now and we have to keep going'', and he emphasised the dressing room's admiration for their current leader.

"To have a coach who has won the Champions League twice is why we look up to him, why we listen to him and that's why he is here,'' Ballack said of Ancelotti. "He is a great coach.''

Chelsea have been given additional hope of overturning a 2-1 deficit by Inter's surprise defeat at Catania on Friday, a game that West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola caught on TV.

"Inter were good in some spells,'' said Zola. "That is the problem with Inter, they can play good football but not consistently. He (Mourinho) has stepped on a few toes in Italy but he's not really interested in that. He is the kind of guy who, when he's got something to say, he says it, and whoever is in front of him has to take it.

"But every manager has his own style and you have to respect that.

"Many times when Mourinho does what he does there is certainly a meaning. And, of course, it works.''

Zola's captain, Scott Parker, knows Mourinho from his own days at the Bridge.

"He says to players 'I am the way I am -- confident -- and I want you to be that as well','' observed Parker.

"You could see that with Chelsea when Jose was manager. There was massive confidence, probably still is. He's a very confident man, prepares well. He knows every single thing about the other team.''

The scouting report on this Chelsea win will have told Mourinho little new. Didier Drogba continues to be a prolific spearhead, Frank Lampard drives through the middle, John Terry remains a warrior as a leader and Florent Malouda is in flying form.

The deft Frenchman created the first goal, delivering a perfect ball for Alex to head home after 16 minutes.

Until departing to a standing ovation, Malouda was outstanding, constantly eluding Jonathan Spector, and crossing for Drogba to restore the lead after Parker equalised. Malouda then scored with a low shot from 16 yards before Drogba made it 4-1 after Robert Green failed to deal with Lampard's shot.

If West Ham had a team of Parkers, they could guarantee survival. The midfielder scored that fine goal, half-volleying a 25-yarder past Ross Turnbull. "Scott is unbelievable,'' said Zola.

When Parker performs like this, scoring and winning the ball, including one fantastic tackle on Lampard, he looks real England material.

"I always think about England,'' he said. "When every squad is named, I think maybe I could have a chance or come in if somebody gets injured. But if I'm being honest, I would have thought I would have been involved a little bit more by now. All I can do is keep playing well for West Ham. If something comes of that, then brilliant.''

Parker's said his "main aim'' was targeting the five home games, particularly "Wolves, Stoke and Sunderland'', in search of the 10 points West Ham believe they need to stay up.

The captain remains hugely supportive of his manager. "Everyone says nice men don't make good managers but everybody in that changing room would back him to the hilt,'' said Parker.

"He's got (former Chelsea No 2) Steve (Clarke) alongside him and they work together well. Gianfranco has that tough side."

When you are so passionate about football, as Gianfranco is, whether you are a nice guy or not, that passionate side is going to come out.'' (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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