Jan Molby

Antagonist Mourinho reaches Joker levels with his ‘reserves’ claim

Jan Molby

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Love Jose Mourinho or hate him, I think we’d all happily go to the cinema and watch him star opposite Batman or Superman or James Bond as the latest super-villain.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of his managerial skills – and whichever side of the fence you sit on, it’s hard to argue with his achievements – I don’t think anybody in sports management understands the concept of an ‘antagonist’ quite like ‘The Special One’.

Case in point: his latest comments regarding the huge Premier League clash this weekend at Liverpool.

Jose claims that he will make mass changes to the side, playing a much-weakened team as he will put all his eggs into the Champions League semi-final basket ahead of the second leg at home against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

First and foremost, nobody quite knows whether he is crying ‘wolf’ or if he will actually do this. And if he does make changes, just how wildly will he rotate?

[MOURINHO 'CANNOT BE PUNISHED' FOR ROTATING SQUAD AT ANFIELD]

Looking at the Chelsea squad, he could make five or six changes to the starting XI and still kick the game off with a line-up which cost more than the home side’s.

Perhaps, though, he’ll go all out. We all heard the story recently about Andreas Christiensen, Chelsea’s 18-year-old defensive prospect from Denmark who (reportedly) earns £20,000 a week, despite having hardly even been named in a matchday squad. Maybe Jose will change that on Sunday.

But whether he is bluffing, exaggerating or has every intention of following through on his claims, Mourinho is successfully keeping everyone guessing.

Above all else, he’s keeping Liverpool in the dark.

Brendan Rodgers’ side are in form. They’re confident. They have the long-awaited dream of a Premier League title in their sights. They have vanquished everything resembling a top side on home soil this season.

But if we had to pinpoint one key weakness in a lot of their performances, it would probably be complacency.

They have struggled to see out comfortable leads after bossing games early on, which is something that usually stems from being uncomfortable or uncertain in their approach. To get off to such hot starts suggests they go into each home game tremendously prepared, which combats the threat of complacency on the pitch.

But what if Mourinho really can throw Rodgers off the pre-match scent with his talk of chopping and changing?

I’m not one of these guys you’ll hear referring to Chelsea’s performance in Madrid on Tuesday as a ‘Mourinho masterclass’. It wasn’t. It was a good, smart performance which leaves them favourites to qualify after the second leg, but a ‘masterclass’ would have ended with them netting a couple of unanswered away goals.

But if his pre-match words are able to disrupt the red blitzkrieg that is Liverpool in the early going of home fixtures, AND Chelsea emerge on Wednesday evening with two wins from the next two games, then there will be no denying Mourinho’s genius.

I stand to be corrected if the opposite comes true on Sunday, but I just cannot see Chelsea de-prioritising one of the two big trophies, even despite Jose’s surprising claims earlier in the season that his side aren’t ready to win the league.

For me, his threat to field a side of reserves at Anfield will surely prove be a bluff. He might change nothing at all, or he might make a few changes, but they won't be the sort of choices that we could regard as putting out a ‘weakened’ side.

I know Mourinho’s comments often earn him a lot of stick, and I'd say often rightfully so - particularly when it comes to things such as his abrupt press conference after losing his Stamford Bridge record to Sunderland.

But if he can rattle Liverpool enough to end their winning run, then reach the Champions League final once again in a matter of days, I think we’d have to consider this pre-emptive strike as right up there with – if not even better than – Sir Alex Ferguson famously winding up Kevin Keegan almost two decades ago.

Fergie’s words rattled the then-Newcastle boss as the Geordies blew a huge lead in the title race. On Sunday, we will either see Liverpool place one hand back on the trophy for the first time in 24 years, or Mourinho will take his place as the king of the mind games; the antagonist extraordinaire.

And if he does, even the likes of the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker, Alan Rickman in the original Die Hard and Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor will have nothing on ‘The Special Super-Villain’.

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