Jose Mourinho calls for Chelsea brave hearts to roar
CHELSEA manager, Jose Mourinho, has laid down a challenge to his club's title rivals by insisting the busy fixture list leading up to the new year will be the survival of the fittest.
With Chelsea on Champions League duty tonight, knowing a point in Basel will secure their place in the last 16 and a win ensures they finish top of the Group E, Mourinho had domestic matters on his mind.
The club, who currently trail Arsenal by four points in the title race, will play nine fixtures next month, although one of those could be a dead rubber against Steaua Bucharest if they earn the win they need in Switzerland.
Mourinho is relishing the prospect following Chelsea's return to winning ways against West Ham on Saturday, and he feels this will be a telling point in the campaign.
He said: "It's a period I like. It's a period where I think the squad can play a role, not just the team.
"It's a period where I think only the braves can survive because it's hard.
"We go into the Christmas period and the accumulation of matches is so high, we don't do it as a normal thing, we do it as a special group with a special mentality, enjoying the situation and forgetting we don't have a Christmas like the Spanish, Italian and German players, but we have the pleasure of playing a period that's only for the braves.
"Nine matches, and one of them is the match against Steaua.
"That's our motivation, to kill the situation in the group stage and give us a bit of space in December and ensure that, instead of having nine competitive matches, we only have eight."
Chelsea's confident demeanour is a far cry from 12 months ago when under Roberto Di Matteo they were struggling and ultimately failing to get out of the Champions League group phase for the first time in their history.
Midfielder John Obi Mikel believes Europe should also be on their guard over their return to form under Mourinho and added: "This time, it's quite a different situation (to last year).
"Now we're top of the group with two games left. The real Chelsea is back, you can say that. We're playing with lots of confidence."
Chelsea striker Fernando Torres is ready to start against the Swiss side, who beat Chelsea in the opening game of the group in September, following a knee injury, but David Luiz is out with a knee injury.
Mourinho (pictured) also revealed the secret of his new short haircut. "I decided to do it. I asked Fernando to give me his machine and I did it myself in front of the mirror. It's nice and cheap.
"Mrs Mourinho, I sent a picture before I arrived at home to see if I could go in... Yes, no problem."
Defender David Luiz did not travel due to a knee problem.
Juan Mata, the Blues' player of the year in each of the last two seasons, has found opportunities limited this term and will get his chance in December.
"He (Mata) deserves to play but I can't start with more than 11," added Mourinho, who pointed out Germany's Andre Schurrle, Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne and Willian of Brazil have also had limited chances.
John Obi Mikel was also not in favour at the start of the campaign, something he attributed in part to a disrupted pre-season at the Confederations Cup. Mikel's Nigeria competed in the tournament alongside Mata's Spain.
Mikel performed well in the 3-0 win at Upton Park, his presence allowing others, including Frank Lampard, to push forwards in a strong Blues display.
Mikel, who dismissed rumours of a summer switch to Galatasaray, said: "The way we played on Saturday was exactly the way the manager wants us to play.
"You could say the real Chelsea is back. We're playing with lots of confidence. The manager is giving lots of confidence to the team.
"Tomorrow is going to be tough but we want to come out full of confidence, play well, win, get the three points and, hopefully, we'll qualify."
Mourinho insists the onus at St Jakob Park is on Basel, who must match Schalke's result with Steaua and beat the Germans next month to advance.
"They are under pressure and we are not," Mourinho said.
"We can finish the job to qualify and Basel, even if they win tonight, have to play a last final at Gelsenkirchen.
"For them, the situation is difficult. This shows clearly that, after the first match, we did our job and they didn't do theirs.
"This Chelsea is better than the Chelsea that played at Stamford Bridge. Hopefully we can continue the good run we've had in the Champions League and finish the job."
If Chelsea do as Mourinho hopes their focus will turn to the Premier League, beginning with Sunday's match with Southampton.
Mourinho has talked of six title contenders and maintains Tottenham are one of them despite their 6-0 loss at Manchester City.
"It's better to lose one game 6-0 than to lose six matches 1-0," Mourinho said.
"It hurts more, but it's better."