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Mourinho in form ahead of Man United showdown

by Christopher Davies

With Jose Mourinho it is usually a metaphorical knife in the ribs followed by a supportive arm around the shoulder.

As Chelsea prepared for Sunday’s game against Manchester United, the Special One — a name that would not have been out of place in The Godfather — was up to his usual tricks.

First the knife: “My feeling, which is based on years of communicating with Sir Alex and some inside information, is Man United are not happy, but they are calm.”

Then the comforting arm: Mourinho then went on to say United trust David Moyes, that they are rebuilding again a big team and the bad results will end.

Classic Mourinho.

The Portuguese would have loved to have been Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor, but the feeling within United was that his personality and demeanor did not fit the club’s image. Mourinho is doing a superb job in his second spell at Chelsea, his coaching, motivation and man-management combined with trademark verbal barbs. He will do whatever it takes to win and more.

United are 11 behind leader Arsenal despite winning five of their last six Premier League games. Last weekend, the top seven clubs all won as the heavyweights of English football continue to deliver knockout blows, and this is the first time in Premier League history where the top four have all had 42 or more points after 21 games. This is the most competitive season most can remember, with eight points covering the top six and just six points covering the bottom 11.

Chelsea remains a work in progress, but Mourinho, like Ferguson, has the weight of personality to raise the level of his team, his decision to leave out Stamford Bridge favorite Juan Mata, who scored 20 goals last season, vindicated by results.

Oscar, 11-goal Eden Hazard and Frank Lampard provide the midfield flair with Ramires, John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien, David Luiz or now Nemanja Matic (sold to Benfica for £3 million three years ago, bought back for £21 million this week — only in football could this happen) adding the ball-winning strength that typifies a Mourinho side.

In attack, Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Willian share the striking duties with minimal impact as the trio have scored only nine league goals between them — of Chelsea’s 41 goals 19, almost half, have come from Hazard, Oscar and Lampard.

United travel to Stamford Bridge to take on the side with the joint-best defense in the Premier League without the injured Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, though Danny Welbeck has belatedly added goals to his work-rate and unselfish running with nine this season.

Moyes knows victory against Chelsea — and Mourinho — would take some of the pressure off him and he is likely to play Shinji Kagawa as a second striker behind Welbeck.

This is the Japan international’s best position, but it is difficult to accommodate him when Rooney and van Persie are fit.

To counter Chelsea’s midfield muscle, Moyes may opt for Phil Jones alongside Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley.

Expect few goals and if the game is decided by an individual moment of magic it could come from Adnan Januzaj, United’s 18-year-old winger who has the potential to become an Old Trafford great.

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NEVER HAS THE departure of a chairman caused such a stir. Nicola Cortese left Southampton on Wednesday, apparently because of disagreements with owner Katharina Liebherr, who has assumed the role of chairman while seeking a chief executive, a role Cortese effectively filled.

Under Cortese, Saints rose from the lower regions of League One to the Premier League in consecutive seasons, the Italian ruthlessly sacking managers Alan Pardew and Nigel Adkins, criticized for appointing Mauricio Pochettino a year ago, a decision that has been fully justified. Cortese did not court popularity, only success.

In the wake of inevitable media speculation that Pochettino would quit, the Argentine pledged his future to the club, dismissing stories of a fire sale of Saints’ best players. Footballers do not want to leave a club because the chairman leaves, only to earn more money elsewhere.

The general belief is Liebherr wants to sell Southampton, which her late father bought for £14 million five years ago and as Fulham, a similar-size club, was sold for around £170 million last year, a tidy profit is guaranteed.

Liebherr inherited a £3 billion fortune, so she hardly needs the money and maybe she wants a shot at heading one of the 20 Premier League clubs. Ego and ambition can rise above profit when you are that rich.

It would be unwise to underestimate Liebherr, who heads a family business employing a workforce of almost 40,000 in over 100 companies on all continents, which was expected to have a turnover of around £9 billion in 2013.

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AT THE TURN of the year, former Football Association chairman David Bernstein said managers need to take more responsibility for their behavior because they were “setting a terrible example for their players, let alone the general public.”

The League Managers’ Association was immediately on the defensive and hit back, saying: “We believe the comments are misguided, and unhelpful . . . it is particularly sad, therefore, to find David Bernstein engaging in a megaphone commentary from the sidelines, taking a unilateral swipe at managers.”

Since then, Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers has been fined by the F.A. for comments made about referee Lee Mason, Stoke’s Mark Hughes has been fined for his conduct in the technical area that saw him sent to the stand, Newcastle’s Alan Pardew was reminded of his responsibilities after being caught by television verbally abusing Manuel Pellegrini in the worst possible way, while Manchester United’s David Moyes has admitted a charge regarding comments about the referee after their 2-1 defeat at Sunderland.

So, in three weeks, four of the 20 Premier League managers have been in trouble for misconduct. In all four divisions, 24 club officials have been charged.

Seems to me that Bernstein had a very valid point and the LMA should direct its energy toward telling its members to set the right example to their players and the general public.

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SWINDON TOWN has banned the local paper, the Swindon Advertiser, because reporter Sam Morshead tweeted at 1:30 p.m. that striker Nile Ranger would be playing against Peterborough, which was a surprise. Morshead had been told by a source two days previously Ranger was to start the game, but at the club’s request kept it quiet so as to not help its opponent.

Daniel Hunt, a Swindon fan, had seen Ranger’s shirt in the dressing room at 12.30 p.m. on a pre-match tour of the ground and tweeted a picture of it.

As the news was in the public domain, Morshead felt he, too, could tweet what was happening. Two minutes after Morshead’s tweet, at 1:32 PM — half an hour before the team sheets were handed in — Ranger told his 13,198 followers on Instagram he was playing.

Swindon blamed Morshead for helping the opposition, an argument somewhat weakened by the fact Peterborough was beaten 2-1. They are not alone.

Manchester United banned a football writer because he kept printing the correct starting XI on the morning of a game.

It gets madder. When reporters following England’s Under-21′s guessed, yes guessed, the team correctly, the press officer was blamed by the coach for leaking it to them. To help the innocent PR the hack pack deliberately printed an incorrect team.

Clubs are the first to say we should print the truth, but when that happens they still ban those responsible.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.