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Herbie von Smalls

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Mourinho writes off Liverpool's title challenge

From Matt Hughes in Los Angeles




IT IS a sign of Liverpool?s emergence as a force in the Barclays Premiership that José Mourinho should be moved to dismiss their threat as title challengers. The Chelsea manager always likes to get his retaliation in early and yesterday provided a subtle savaging of Rafael Benítez?s side, damning them with faint praise for their defensive qualities. With 11 days remaining until Chelsea and Liverpool kick off the season with the FA Community Shield, the mind games have begun in earnest.


Benítez has succeeded in getting under Mourinho?s skin since European football?s brightest young managers both moved to England two years ago, but there is more than simple spite to the Portuguese?s outburst. Although Liverpool have won only two of the ten increasingly ill-tempered meetings between the sides in the past two seasons, those victories came in the most important matches, the Champions League in 2005 and this year?s FA Cup semi-final, revealing Benítez to be the only Premiership manager capable of matching the Special One in a tactical battle. Mourinho may genuinely disagree with John Terry?s recent suggestion that Liverpool will run Chelsea close this season, but one sensed that he protested slightly too much.




?I believe that Manchester United and Arsenal will be the better teams,? Mourinho said. ?The quality of their football, the way they play, the improvements in their squads. United will improve a lot by having Michael Carrick. He?s a very, very good player and will improve them. United have had some problems since Roy Keane went to Celtic, but they have a very good team and don?t need ten players to improve their team. They just choose the right players for the right position. Carrick is a big improvement for them and I think they can be a very strong team.


?Arsenal were not successful in the Premiership but had success, you can say that because they reached the final of the Champions League playing always very good football. They have a very good group of players, and some young players with great motivation. [Tomas] Rosicky is also a very important player for them and can bring them the kind of quality ? I don?t want to compare him to [Dennis] Bergkamp because he was more than special ? but Rosicky can bring that kind of quality to the left side. I think they are a very strong team.


?Liverpool are different. They are very competitive, it?s very difficult to beat them. If they score a goal before you score, it?s very difficult to change it because they defend really well with 11 players and are very, very compact. They are tactically very good. And they are potentially fighting for the front pack, but I still fancy more the way Manchester United and Arsenal play football.?


For all Mourinho?s respect for United and Arsenal, such is his confidence that he feels Chelsea?s biggest enemy is complacency.


?We were the best team for sure in England in the last two years so the fight is against ourselves,? he said. ?We must challenge ourselves. We don?t need other people to put pressure on us, I think we have to put pressure on ourselves and push ourselves with big motivation to keep improving. The new players we have are not many, but are high-quality players and they are new motivation for us.


?I was telling the players this group reminds me of our group in the first year I came here. In the first year from the first day we were feeling and smelling a fantastic group and a great family. I think these kind of feelings are back. Of course leaving our wives and families behind is difficult but we feel very, very comfortable living together and working together.


?I don?t believe it will be easy for other clubs to stop us because we are building a very strong football team and also a very strong family.?

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