Fond relationships will be rekindled at the Turk Telekom Arena on Wednesday evening when Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho comes up against two players instrumental to some of his greatest successes, Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder. Already, though, any expectation of a thawing of the spiky relationship between the two coaches has already been put to bed.
Galatasaray manager Roberto Mancini, of course, was succeeded by Mourinho at Internazionale after winning three consecutive Serie A titles. Mourinho soon won the trophy that painfully eluded Mancini, the Champions League, something for which the Italian has, not for the first time, claimed much of the credit for this week.
“Mourinho won the Champions League because he took a very good team,” Manicni said, according to Sky Sports. "He took a team that, like Manchester City, I had built, a team that had a strong mentality. When I went to Inter, they played very bad football and we changed this.”
Mourinho, never one to back down in a battle of egos, unsurprisingly came back with a pointed retort.
“It's funny, it's funny. It's funny because my team in the final had Lucio, Thiago Motta, Diego Milito, Samuel Eto'o, Goran Pandev and Wesley Sneijder,” he explained.
"From my 11 players, he didn't work with six of them. So he made a five-a-side team because I played with only five players from his team."
Mourinho’s main ire in the buildup to the game, however, has been drawn elsewhere. The Portuguese has reacted angrily to French television station Canal Plus airing overheard comments by Mourinho criticizing his current crop of strikers and joking about the age of Samuel Eto’o.
Once things get underway in Istanbul, it is a striker in the ranks of Chelsea’s opponents who will be the focus of attention. For the first time Drogba will be coming up against the club for which he starred and lifted the team on his back to win the European Cup in 2012. The Champions League final against Bayern Munich was just one of many occasions in which Drogba came to the fore on the big occasion. Chelsea will be hoping that he does not repeat those feats on Wednesday.
Drogba, 35, has scored just eight goals in the Turkish Super League this season, and Chelsea will also have to guard against their top scorer, who has been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge in the past year, Burak Yilmaz. Mancini has steadied the ship domestically after a poor start to the season. A 1-0 win over rivals Besiktas at the weekend took them to within four points of Fenerbahce at the top of the table.
Their progress through to the Champions League knockout phase for the second straight year has been the highlights of Mancini’s reign, although it came with some controversy. On a terrible pitch that had been cleared of snow, and apparently grass, the night before, Galatasaray beat Juventus 1-0 in the crucial final group game courtesy of Sneijder’s late goal.
Chelsea’s progress was more serene, albeit it still came with two unexpected losses to Basel. Since those defeats, Mourinho has gone back to his tried and trusted formula with a considerable upturn in results. The Blues now lead the Premier League following a run of 12 matches unbeaten and just four goals conceded.
Where to watch: The first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie will kick off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Sports 1, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.