Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho is confident that his side will enjoy a successful finish to the season, despite a disappointing start to his second spell in charge. Having taken one point from their last two Premier League games, Chelsea suffered a shock defeat at home to Basel on Matchday One of the Champions League.
Despite the premature nature of the season, there has been criticism of Mourinho’s team selections as well as some of the club’s business in the transfer market this summer. The man who won two Premier League titles during his first tenure is happy to take some of the criticisms on board, but sees no reason to panic.
“I accept critics and for sure I'll agree with some and disagree with others,” he said. "But the first thing I have to say is we've lost nothing and I'm not worried. We haven't finished third in our Champions League group and been relegated to the Europa League. And we didn't finish third in the Premier League. I know the steps I have to take.
“We've lost one match in the Premier League and the other five contenders for the title have all lost one game also - with the exception of Liverpool. It's not the way you start the season but the way you finish. You want to start good and finish good. But it's better to start bad and finish well, rather than start well and finish bad.”
Chelsea’s total of seven points from their first four Premier League games is the lowest return since Roman Abramovic began pouring his millions into the club 10 years ago. Further dropped points against west London rivals Fulham on Saturday and Mourinho’s new “happy one” persona will become further strained.
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Still, while stating that his previous achievements don’t entitle him to preferential treatment, Mourinho is unlikely to find himself subjected to the kind of dissention that Fulham boss Martin Jol is currently facing anytime soon.
Jol reacted angrily to calls for him to be sacked by certain sections of his club’s fans following the concession of an injury-time equalizer at home to West Brom last week, although the Dutchman has since retreated from his criticisms of those supporters.
For the short trip to Stamford Bridge, Fulham will have Darren Bent back after a hamstring injury, but will have to wait for a late fitness test to determine whether Dimitar Berbatov has shaken off a similar complaint. Bryan Ruiz is definitely out, as is Maarten Stekelenburg, Aaron Hughes and Matthew Briggs.
Chelsea have a full squad to choose from, with captain John Terry likely to return to the starting lineup after his was left out against Basel. Ramires is also back in contention after serving a European suspension.
D: Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole
M: Ramires, Lampard
Mata, Oscar, Hazard
D: Riether, Hangeland, Senderos, Richardson
M: Duff, Sidwell, Parker, Kacaniklic
Prediction: While the appointment of Mourinho instantly brought high expectations, Chelsea’s early problems are not all that surprising. Mourinho has inherited a squad suited to a possession-based style, rather than the physical, pacey counter-attacking approach that he favors. Also, the summer transfer window went by with the club largely failing to address the squad’s two main deficiencies: the lack of a commanding midfield presence and a true top level presence to lead the attack.
However, it is far too early to write off Samuel Eto’o, as some are doing. After his time in Russia it was always going to take time for the 32-year-old to regain his sharpness. He remains Chelsea’s best bet of the three strikers on their books and Mourinho is likely to keep faith.
Fulham failed to address their problems in the summer as well, and their aging squad still lacks dynamism. However, with the likes of Berbatov and Ruiz, there will be plenty for the fans to admire in terms of aesthetics this season. It is just a case of whether the supporters are happy accepting what looks set to be another midtable finish.
The Cottagers should prove to be welcome opponents for Chelsea, with the hosts unlikely to be put under undue pressure. Expect Mourinho to get back to winning ways.
Chelsea 2-0 Fulham
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 12.30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the NBC Sports Network, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.