Galatasaray boss insists Chelsea strong favourites to progress

Former Manchester City manager points to visitors’ quality and experience

 Galatasaray manager Roberto Mancini.

Galatasaray manager Roberto Mancini.

 


They were not buying Jose Mourinho’s familiar assertion, delivered this time on the banks of the Bosphorus, that his is a team of novices.

The Portuguese’s suggestion that Chelsea remain in a “special period”, gaining experience from collisions against gnarled campaigners such as Galatasaray, prompted snorts of incredulity from the Turkish media and a rather weary, heard-it-all-before smile from Roberto Mancini.

The Gala coach begged to differ. “They have fantastic players who are used to playing games like this,” he said. “They are 80 per cent to go through. Yes, I said 80 per cent, not 18.”

The reality is any team overseen by Mourinho feels transformed into a side capable of hoisting this trophy. His record with Porto and even Internazionale, where he had succeeded Mancini and duly claimed the Italians’ first European Cup in 45 years, precedes him. Mourinho is attempting to reach the semi-final stage for the eighth time in 10 full attempts.

“I won it twice when we were not favourites and I didn’t win it when my team, Real Madrid, were one of the favourites,” he said before going on to admit that any side who progress to the quarter-finals is presented with an opportunity. Mancini, in seven attempts with Lazio, Inter and Manchester City, has only once coached a team into the last eight.

Prolific striker
The Premier League leaders boast players, in Eden Hazard or Oscar, to illuminate ties against Europe’s best and a defence that has shipped only three goals in 10 domestic league games, if not yet the prolific strikers to send waves of apprehension through all-comers. Samuel Eto’o is likely to be preferred to Fernando Torres in Istanbul, regardless of leaked asides caught on camera by Canal Plus, but Chelsea’s raw ingredients are still there, bolstered by memories of last year’s Europa League success and Munich in 2012.

Yet the mantra preached at Stamford Bridge this season has still been one of caution, with constant references to an ongoing development aimed at creating a “phenomenal” side in the near future.

“The team is in a special period where we still have some senior players but lots without experience at this level,” said Mourinho, whose European campaigns with Chelsea have culminated in two semi-final defeats by Liverpool and elimination to Barcelona in the last 16 in 2006.

“Some are playing the knockout stage for the first time and this is a period where you face the top teams in the world or, in the case of Galatasaray, the top team in Turkey with lots of experienced players.

“Last year Chelsea were knocked out in the group phase. The Europa League came as a consequence of being eliminated in that group phase, so I don’t consider last year to be successful. It was our worst year because it’s the only time Chelsea was knocked out in the group phase. We have already done better by qualifying through the group phase but what we did is normal. Nothing special. We did our job.”

Life is trickier from now on in. Emerging unscathed and still in contention from the hostility of the Turk Telekom Arena will add credence to their challenge.

Galatasaray, Turkish champions for the last two seasons and much improved from the rather dishevelled mess of the autumn since Mancini took up the reins, are a similar blend of vast experience and talented potential. They boast the firepower to test Chelsea’s impressively stingy recent form and, in Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder, are inspired by two elder statesmen with their own ties to this contest.

Sneijder, the brilliant Dutch playmaker, was pivotal to Inter’s success under Mourinho in 2010. “What can I say about him?” said the 29-year-old midfielder. “We won this cup together.”

With Drogba the connections are deeper: first with Mourinho, the man who he credits for shaping his career; more romantically with Chelsea, for whom he scored 157 goals over eight years. His last touch for the club was the penalty dispatched beyond Manuel Neuer at the Allianz Arena to secure the European Cup for Chelsea in 2012.

“He is still one of the best strikers in the world,” said Petr Cech. “Didier is one of those guys who if you go to war you would always want beside you. He likes the challenge, the responsibility, and obviously he is a winner. Big players have big moments in big games. He fought for every inch and he still does. That makes him a danger.”

A repeat
Mancini described the pair as Mourinho’s “enemies for 90 minutes”, for all that their relationship will endure off the pitch. He will hope they can inspire a repeat of the displays that took four points from Juventus in the group stage.

“When you speak about Drogba and Sneijder you are speaking about two of the best in the world, two Champions League winners, and Galatasaray have characteristics that make it more difficult,” added Mourinho.

“The crowd is difficult. They will prefer a fighting, aggressive match. For my people like Oscar and Hazard it is an experience to catch with both hands and learn. When it comes to knockout you add the pressure of the detail – the goal, the post, the offside, the mistake. Because of one detail you lose and you’re out, or you win and you’re in. ”

No manager has won this trophy three times with different clubs. Mourinho’s Real Madrid favourites were denied. His self-styled team of apprentices might yet fare better.
Guardian Service

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