Chelsea's head coach Mourinho reacts before their Champions League soccer match against Schalke 04 in Gelsenkirchen

Jose Mourinho hails Chelsea’s ‘maturity’ as title charge begins to gather steam

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LONDON — After his sides stunning second half fightback against Southampton on Sunday, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho didn’t go as far as declaring that his side are ready to lift the Premier League title.

But he does feel his young side are adapting well to the challenges of a title race as they brushed Saints aside 3-1 with a mature and composed display.

Stunned by Jay Rodriguez’ early goal, Mourinho’s men trailed until the 55th minute but fought back superbly to go second in the table and sit just four points behind leaders Arsenal. Asked whether this win signified a team who are ready to lift the title, Mourinho was cautious.

“It’s the sign of a team that is going step by step and understands my ideas and mentality,” Mourinho said. “Some of the players are progressively feeling the responsibility. Feeling that Chelsea, in December, cannot be completely out of the title race. They must feel the responsibility to play for Chelsea and that was a sign of maturity. We were losing after 10 seconds, but we said ‘keep calm, let’s go.'”

(MORE: Chelsea 3-1 Southampton: Stirring comeback sends Blues second)

The Blues pressed in the first half as Artur Boruc saved splendidly from Fernando Torres’ close-range header and Chelsea went in 1-0 down at the break. But Mourinho’s men kept their heads, and after the interval Gary Cahill and John Terry used theirs in quick succession to nod the West London side ahead.

Mourinho was impressed with his sides second half display as Southampton couldn’t cope with their rampant attack lead by a fired up Torres. The Spanish forward, returning to the starting lineup after injury, was serenaded by the home crowd as cries of ‘Torres, Torres’ reverberated around Stamford Bridge as he was replaced late on. Mourinho told me this when I asked about Torres: “The way he’s working for us, it’s fantastic.”

However it was a tactical switch at half time that swung the game in Chelsea’s favor as the ‘Special One’ sent on towering striker Demba Ba for midfielder Michael Essien and switched formation to 4-4-2 in order to hassle and harass Southampton’s two central defenders.

source: Getty Images
John Terry’s header put Chelsea 2-1 up as a second half comeback, masterminded by Mourinho, put the Blues within touching distance of top spot.

It worked a treat, as Jose Fonte and Dejan Lovren were forced to go long and give up possession as Chelsea continually picked up the ball and started free-flowing attacks.

Mourinho masterminded yet another victory — as Chelsea stretched their unbeaten run at home in the PL to 67 games under their Portuguese manager — after another early substitution worked in his favor.

“We changed to the 4-4-2 and I think we gave Southampton a different game, a game that they didn’t expect. I think it was difficult for them to cope with the situation,” Mourinho said. “We were not producing enough. I tried to give the opponent a new problem, one they were probably not ready for. They like to play it from the back, the fact we played with two strikers pressing Fonte and Lovren, I think they started going long and that allow my team to start creating chances.”

In the next six days Chelsea now face two tricky tests away from home against Sunderland and Stoke, before welcoming strugglers Crystal Palace to Stamford Bridge in three games that will test their mettle not to drop points against weaker opponents.

But hovering on the horizon is a pivotal clash with league-leaders Arsenal on December 23, which could decide who is top of the table at Christmas. Mourinho brushed off suggestions that he’s setting big targets and goals for his side and instead wants to focus the players improving… whilst staying in the title hunt.

“I can’t establish targets and say ‘I want to win five straight games’ or ‘I want to be top of the league then.’ No. I want nothing,” Mourinho said. “I want to work with them, to feed the young players and the new team which has been working with me for a few months. By the time we are doing that, we are there. That’s the importance thing. If you are 10-12 points behind, you’re building… but you’re not fighting for the title. If you are 4-5 points behind, you’re building and evolving but you’re fighting for the title. These boys have to cope with the responsibility of being there.”

Pochettino trolling? “You got the feeling that Chelsea were a small team”

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur huffed and puffed at White Hart Lane on Sunday but never really got going as they settled for a point at White Hart Lane.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Harry Kane forced Asmir Begovic into two good saves in the first half and Song Hueng-min should’ve scored in the second half with a header but even after after a grueling 5,000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan on Thursday night for Europa League action which saw them arrive back in England at 6 a.m. local time Friday, manager Mauricio Pochettino wasn’t pleased his team didn’t win to move into the top four.

“No, not really happy. We deserved more than we got, so I was disappointed, but it’s true that I’m proud of the players. For me they’re big heroes,” Pochettino told ProSoccerTalk. “The effort was massive. Chelsea played one of their best games of the season, and when you make the effort we showed and the maturity, you have to be happy with your players but disappointed with one point.”

[ MORE: Mourinho calls benched Costa “privileged” ]

With Spurs now stretching their unbeaten run to 13 games this season — their one and only defeat in 2015-16 came on the opening day of the season, 1-0 at Manchester United — Pochettino was asked if his side, who sit five points off the top, should be pleased that a draw against Chelsea felt like two points dropped.

The Argentine coach then released his inner Jose Mourinho — the pair have a close relationship and before Poch came to coach in England he spoke at length to Mourinho — dishing out a backhanded compliment to the master of the backhanded compliment.

“This is a good thing. We play the champions. It’s good. You got the feeling that Chelsea were a small team and Tottenham can win every game we play,” Pochettino said. “It’s very difficult, though. Not easy. We’re the youngest team in the PL and the maturity we showed today we have shown in different games. We have to feel happy. It’s a good thing that, maybe, we are a bigger club than Chelsea or that we deserve more. We showed good performances in the last few games, and I’m happy, but we have to keep working hard. We’ve only had 14 games in the PL and it’s too early to think about the end of the season.”

Whether or not those comments were lost in translation from a man who is still getting used to English as his second language, Pochettino clearly felt Spurs deserved more than the point they got and it’s apparent from the differing predicaments both teams find themselves in that Spurs have more chance of winning the title and finishing in the top four than Chelsea this season.

Watch Live: Liverpool vs. Swansea City (Lineups, Live Stream)

SWANSEA, WALES - MARCH 16:  Kyle Naughton of Swansea City is closed down by Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on March 16, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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Struggling Swansea City has quite a task with its visit to high-flying Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Swansea has plenty of experience on the bench, and will start Eder and Kyle Bartley.

Daniel Sturridge is again on the bench for Liverpool, while Christian Benteke starts up top for the Reds.



Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno, Can, Milner, Lallana, Ibe, Firmino, Benteke. Subs: Bogdan, Toure, Henderson, Sturridge, Allen, Origi, Randall.

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Bartley, Williams (c), Taylor, Britton, Ki Sung-Yueng, Sigurdsson, Routledge, Ayew, Éder. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Fernandez, Cork, Grimes, Montero, Gomis.

Watch Live: Norwich City vs. Arsenal (Lineups, Live Stream)

NORWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal and Johan Elmander of Norwich City compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on May 11, 2014 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images
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Norwich City faces a third UEFA Champions League side in four matches when Arsenal visits Carrow Road on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET online via Live Extra).

Arsenal starts Mathieu Flamini in place of the injured Francis Coquelin, and Olivier Giroud is again up top.

As for the home side, there’s a lot of offense on the bench including Nathan Redmond.



Norwich City: Ruddy; Wisdom, Bennett, Bassong, Olsson; Howson, Dorrans, O’Neil (c), Brady; Hoolahan; Grabban. Subs: Rudd (GK), Martin, Mbokani, Jerome, Mulumbu, Redmond, Odjidja.

Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud. Subs: Ospina, Debuchy, Gabriel, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Reine-Adelaide, Campbell.

Mourinho on benching Costa: “He is very privileged”

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LONDON — Jose Mourinho defended his decision to leave Diego Costa on the bench on Sunday for Chelsea’s 0-0 draw at Tottenham Hotspur, calling the Spanish international “privileged” for keeping his spot in the Chelsea lineup this long.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Costa, 27, has scored just four goals in 17 appearances for Chelsea this season and in their midweek win at Maccabi Tel-Aviv he and Mourinho had a clear misunderstanding in the first half which saw words exchanged.

Since then, reports have claimed that Mourinho is trying to bring in a new striker in January and his benching of Costa on Sunday will add further fuel to the fire.

“Diego is very privileged because he was the last one to be on the bench,” Mourinho said. “Everyone else has been: the captain; Ivanovic, Cahill, the vice-captain of England; Fabregas; Pedro; Hazard, player of the season; Oscar; everyone was on the bench. Diego was privileged because I kept him in the team for all these matches. Today we thought the best strategy was this one. We are happy with the decision and the players. If we had won 1-0, our performance would have been considered tremendous. You will still say it was good.”

Chelsea’s boss was pushed further about Diego’s state of mind as he reportedly failed to put his boots on when warming up and then threw his warm-up bib (see the video above) in the direction of Mourinho.

“Physically he is fine. No problems. He is working well every day. His mood is positive. He’s always a positive guy in the team,” Mourinho said. “I was not expecting to have a player on the bench jumping and singing because he is not playing, unless you’re a kid who has a chance to go on the bench – Ruben, Kenedy, feel that is one more step. But for a top player, they’re not happy. His behavior was normal. He was ready to play when he went to warm up. When I decided not to play him, he went. And probably he is eating while waiting for us in the bus.”

“If he wants to hurt me, it’s not with a bib. I have a good relationship with him, no problem”

Mourinho may not feel like he has a problem right now with Costa because Eden Hazard led the line superbly in a false-nine formation.

With Loic Remy missing due to the birth of his child on Saturday, Mourinho decided to replace Costa with the diminutive Belgian and he dazzled Spurs’ backline with several intelligent runs and had Chelsea’s best two chances as he headed over in the first half and then forced Hugo Lloris into a superb stop in the second half from a controlled volley.

Costa’s benching has been coming, and although he seemed to handle it poorly on the sidelines, it’s clear that he must now shape up or Chelsea will move on without him.

“If Costa watched the game with some attention from the bench he will  know what is needed from him,” Mourinho said, ominously.