Saturday 24 February 2018

Sweet 'smell' of success in air for Mourinho's Blues

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho

Jeremy Wilson

Jose Mourinho has admitted that his Chelsea players can already "smell" the chance to win the first trophy of his second spell as manager but he is still planning to rotate his squad in the League Cup quarter-final against Sunderland tonight.

The League Cup was the first of five major competitions Mourinho won in his three seasons as Chelsea manager from 2004 to 2007 and was described often by the players as an important "springboard" for his team's subsequent Premier League dominance.

Mindful of the extra rest Arsenal will have before the Premier League game at the Emirates Stadium on Monday, there will be changes to his team tonight.

Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole will both almost certainly return, with Cesar Azpilicueta moving to the right side of defence in order to accommodate Cole.

"To play a game in the same week you play the second against the first (in the Premier League) is a strange week, especially because Arsenal are not having this game," Mourinho said.

"They are having a couple of days off. But it's the quarter-final. When you are in the quarter-final, you smell the final. It's not very, very far. We are going to try."

Gus Poyet, the new Sunderland manager, had a distinguished playing career at Chelsea and Mourinho was only too happy to offer his advice.

"He's playing for relegation, he has to play the kids from the academy in our game and keep the guys fresh for the next weekend," he said, smiling.

Poyet sees things rather differently and, although lifting Sunderland from the bottom of the Premier League is his priority, he believes that the League Cup can help him to change the mentality of the players.

"If we want to get out of the relegation zone, we need to become winners, winning games, and to become winners, we need to win the next one, so let's see if we can use it for that reason," he said. "It's a competition and you cannot start the season thinking: 'I won't care about this one.' It's just about playing and becoming winners."

While Mourinho is clearly also thinking about the match with Arsenal next week, Poyet arguably has even more reason to be concerned about his next Premier League fixture, against Norwich City on Saturday. Sunderland are five points adrift at the bottom.

"I am trying to focus -- it's not easy because of the situation we are in -- but I am really trying to concentrate only on Chelsea, so I am not watching Norwich, I am not reading any news about Norwich," he said.

"It's all about Chelsea now. I am sure as soon as the game is finished, it's going to come into my head, Norwich, Norwich, Norwich. But for now, I don't want even to think about it."

SUNDERLAND V CHELSEA, LIVE, SKY SPORTS 1, 7.45

Irish Independent

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