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Ravel Morrison enjoying life at Atlas


Mourinho looks to restore reputation

With the rift between Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich seemingly a thing of the past, Chelsea will hope to concentrate on winning back their Premier League crown.

Chelsea will point to the injuries they suffered throughout 2006/07, which saw them lose important stars such as Petr Cech, Carlo Cudicini, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Joe Cole and Arjen Robben for large parts of the campaign.

Mourinho will argue that he lost his grip on the title after the Christmas period when both Terry and Cech were missing, ripping the spine out of a defence which has earned its reputation as the best in the division.

In truth, much of the blame must sit with the bickering behind the scenes, which led to William Gallas, a hugely versatile defender, leaving for Arsenal on transfer deadline day in August without there being the time to find a replacement. And as the row escalated, any attempts to strengthen when the window reopened were blocked.

Chelsea tried in vain to hang on to United's coat-tails in the final weeks of the season but the Red Devils' ability to churn out the victories could not be matched. The Blues finished the season six points adrift and, to rub salt into the wounds, had to form a guard of honour for the new champions at Stamford Bridge in the final week of the campaign.

Once again, Chelsea went close in the Champions League but for the second time in three years were sent tumbling out at the semi-final stage by Liverpool. This time they lost on penalties after drawing 1-1 on aggregate. It was a crushing loss for Mourinho who, for once, appeared humbled following the exit.

But Chelsea would not be trophyless, beating Arsenal 2-1 in a fiery Carling Cup final before gaining small revenge over United with a 1-0 FA Cup victory - courtesy of an extra-time goal from Didier Drogba.

Drogba was without doubt Chelsea's player of the season - and it was only due to the amazing form of Cristiano Ronaldo that he did not win the PFA Player of the Year award. He scored 20 Premier League goals - the first Chelsea player to do so in the top flight since Kerry Dixon.

While Drogba excelled, there was criticism over the form of Frank Lampard who, despite scoring 11 goals, suffered from the presence of the disappointing Michael Ballack, who cramped space in the centre, following his arrival from Bayern Munich.

Twelve months has proven to be a long time in the Premier League. Now it is Manchester United who seem to be splashing the cash while Chelsea concentrate on strengthening depth rather than with star names.

To date, only Florent Malouda has cost the west London club any money. The France international, so impressive in Ligue 1 for the ever-dominant Lyon in recent seasons, does look to be a quality addition and, by recent standards, the transfer fee of £13.5million is a relative bargain for Abramovich. United, meanwhile, have spent in the region of £56.7million.

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The other reinforcements, on Bosman free transfers, look likely to be squad players - though Peruvian striker Claudio Pizarro has the quality to cause Andriy Shevchenko and Saloman Kalou plenty of concerns.

In Tal Ben Haim and Steve Sidwell, Mourinho has signed players who are able players since but few would claim they will be the difference between winning the title and losing it.

The signing of Sidwell raised eyebrows, and brought echoes of Scott Parker's move to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have midfield options aplenty and it could be difficult for the former Reading man to make an impression. However, perhaps Mourinho sees him as the perfect option when January comes around and the likes of Michael Essien and Mikel John Obi have disappeared off to the African Cup of Nations.

Likewise, Pizarro will be crucial to Chelsea's fortunes once Didier Droba has joined up with the Ivory Coast. It will be difficult to cope without Drogba over that six-week period and others will have to step up to the plate and produce.

Ben Haim, meanwhile, finally arrives at Chelsea after the behind-the-scenes battles prevented Mourinho from adding him to his squad in January. Few would argue that Chelsea would not have had a better chance of securing a third successive title had defensive additions been made.

The arrival of the Israeli international has been made all the more important following the news that Terry will miss the first month of the campaign with a knee injury. It will be an immediate test of Mourinho's new found depth at the back.

Mourinho's lack of options not only weakened them defensively last season but also in the centre of the park with Essien, such a driving force in central midfield, forced into right-back and central defensive duties seemingly on a weekly basis.

The right-back position remains a concern for the Chelsea manager. With the woeful Khalid Boularhouz now jettisoned to FC Sevilla on loan the returning Glen Johnson may get the chance to make the place his own ahead of the indefensible Paulo Ferreira. More likely, however, is that Mourinho will look to the transfer market to solve a problem which has so far plagued his time in England.

FC Sevilla's Daniel Alves is desperate for a chance in the Premiership and Mourinho is a known admirer. It would not be a surprise to see the Brazilian in the blue of Chelsea by the end of August.

Mourinho will also hope to finally have Alex at his disposal once problems surrounding his work permit have been ironed out, though he may need to go to appeal after appearing in only eight of Brazil's 14 internationals recently.

After spending three years with PSV Eindhoven in the Eredivise, Chelsea are now ready to exercise their option on the central defender who will compete with Ben Haim, Ricardo Carvalho and Terry.

The return of the Coles, with Ashley at left-back, can only be a positive - especially when you consider the left-back managed just 21 Premier League starts after moving from Arsenal.

Perhaps Chelsea's main problem is going to be keeping all their midfielders happy, a situation which will be made worse should Arjen Robben's reported move to Real Madrid not go ahead. In truth, Robben has failed to live up to the performances of his first month in the Premier League and his departure would not really hurt them, especially considering the addition of Malouda and the return to fitness of Joe Cole.

Cole, who essentially missed the first two months of 2006/07 and then the best part of five months after picking up another injury in late November, will be like a new signing after a pre-season of getting back to full fitness.

With Mourinho insisting he will be playing a three-pronged strikeforce, the options in the centre are further reduced.

Somehow Mourinho is going to have to find room for Claude Makelele, Essien, Frank Lampard, Sidwell, Joe Cole, Obi, Michael Ballack, Lassana Diarra, Robben and Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Ballack, of course, flattered to deceive in 2006/07 and much more will be expected of a midfielder player considered to be one of the best in the world before moving to England last summer. Mourinho continues to insist he is able to play alongside Lampard but the jury is most definitely out on the German international.

Talk of Real making a £27million double raid for Robben and Ballack may be no more than that, as Mourinho will want to be proved right, but the sale would solve other issues and create space in the squad for Alves.

Chelsea's star names will have to improve to challenge United for the title, and it may well be the league which proves to be Mourinho's major concern despite coming so close in the Champions League with Chelsea. Mourinho is a man of pride and losing the title hurt.

  • Any comments? Email Dale Johnson