Belfast Telegraph

Chelsea boss Mourinho is out to exploit Liverpool's flaws

By Ian Herbert

Jose Mourinho has said that he detects a flaw in Liverpool's set-up which his Chelsea side can seize upon to inflict "hurt" on the visitors, as they seek to put the shock of FA Cup defeat behind them and progress to the Capital One Cup final by beating Brendan Rodgers' team tonight.

The Chelsea manager believes that Rodgers' three-man defence creates space which his players can exploit in a Stamford Bridge semi-final they enter as favourites, following the hard-fought 1-1 first-leg draw at Anfield last Tuesday.

"Liverpool gave a lot of space," Mourinho said. "They play with three defenders. The full-backs are wide. We could hurt them much more than we did there. I was frustrated (in the first leg) because normally our midfield is full of quality after losing the ball.

"We recovered the ball, lost the ball, recovered the ball, lost the ball - when I saw enough space to score more goals."

Liverpool's faint hopes of having former Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge back in the squad for the first time since August have been all but dashed, with Rodgers unlikely to risk the 25-year-old.

Sturridge travelled with the squad to London yesterday but the manager is unwilling to gamble with a player who is recovering from the ninth thigh injury of his career and is instrumental to the rest of Liverpool's season.

The vulnerability Mourinho claims to have spotted is the potential to get in behind Rodgers' wing-backs when they push up.

With centre-backs Emre Can, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho instinctively staying narrow, Mourinho will look to utilise the space that conventional full-backs would occupy in a four-man defence. The penalty Liverpool conceded in the first leg, when Cesc Fabregas threatened from wide and cut back for Eden Hazard, demonstrated the weakness.

Mourinho said there was no specific plan to deal with Raheem Sterling, because he did not pose much threat beyond getting the equaliser last week.

"He scored a fantastic goal but I didn't see too much more than that," Mourinho said.

"I think Chelsea played very well defensively. In that action (of scoring) he was fantastic and we made a couple of mistakes."

Rodgers would benefit hugely from Sturridge's return, but he indicated yesterday that the striker had looked "tentative" at times in his return to training and said he would not put him on the bench purely for a psychological benefit.

"(I'll only put him on the bench) if he's available to perform," Rodgers said. "It's no good having the psychological threat if he can't play. For us it's about assessing whether the risk is worth it.

"It's important that he's back training now and the players up to now have done really well without him."

Rodgers - who claimed that Liverpool would almost certainly do no transfer business this week - told his players before sending them out for the first leg that clinching their first silverware under his management could be the first step to serial success.

The Liverpool manager has hopes that a more attacking Chelsea mentality at home could open space up for them.

"They may want to take a defensive midfielder out and put an extra attacker in, but that might leave the spaces open," said Rodgers.

He was yesterday preparing for three more team meetings to deal with the technical and tactical threat - knowing that Mourinho has the capability to change things again.

Mourinho said his players were motivated to make up for the defeat to Bradford City. "I think everybody wants it more now because it's the only domestic cup we can win.

"The FA Cup is finished for us and because it is now finished I think the players and the fans will use the Liverpool game this season to win a domestic cup."

 

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