Why Manchester City Should Not Worry over Jose Mourinho's Weakened Team Threat

Rob PollardFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 22:  Manager Jose Mourinho of Chelsea walks out for the start of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Chelsea at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 22, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has been given the go-ahead by the club's board to pick a weakened side for this weekend's trip to Anfield in order to save players for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final with Atletico Madrid three days later, according to Dominic Fifield in The Guardian.

Premier League rules state that managers are allowed to pick any combination of players from their 25-man squad, with the addition of some under-21 players.

The match is of huge importance to Manchester City, who need Liverpool to lose at least one of their remaining matches if they are to stand any chance of winning the title. Most observers have earmarked Chelsea's visit on Sunday as the most likely chance of a Liverpool defeat.

The question now is whether Mourinho is playing more mind games or whether he does, indeed, intend to admit defeat in his quest for the Premier League title and play a much-weakened side at Anfield.

FILE PHOTO - EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image Numbers 456837437 (L) and 183386392) In this composite image a comparison has been made between Brendan Rodgers ,manager of Liverpool (L) and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho. The top two teams in th
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There are a multitude of reasons this can be marked down as nonsense. The Chelsea boss is clearly angered by the fixture scheduling by the Premier League. And by making threats to rotate heavily for what is a crucial match, it places the spotlight on them and highlights what he perceives to be the problem of the league's governing body not helping English sides progress in European competition.

It also looks on the surface like another attempt to alleviate any pressure on his player. By downplaying their chances and complaining of too many games, injuries and suspensions, it leaves Chelsea in a situation whereby a win at Anfield is seen as miraculous; a defeat is what is expected.

So, who is Mourinho likely to play?

Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel, who are both suspended for Chelsea's second leg with Atletico, are almost certain to start, as are Mohamed Salah and Nemanja Matic, both of whom are ineligible for the Champions League.

Mourinho has a decision to make in goal. With Petr Cech injured and definitely out, he may choose to rest his second-choice keeper Mark Schwarzer and play Henrique Hilario instead.

Eden Hazard, who has missed two weeks with a calf injury but travelled with the squad to Madrid for the first leg this week, has a chance of being fit but may not be risked. Samuel Eto'o has a knee injury which ruled him out of Tuesday's game.

Add to that a potential suspension for Ramires, and Mourinho has few options.

However, the idea that he will play a starting XI of under-21 players is fanciful at best. Mourinho may not be the most sporting manager, but selecting a team of inexperienced youngsters for a game of such magnitude would set the football community against him, and he himself surely cannot have ruled out the possibility of Chelsea winning the title.

They remain five points behind Liverpool, but a win on Sunday would see them close in on Liverpool and apply some serious pressure going into the final two games of the season.

A possible starting XI for Sunday looks like this:

Schwarzer; Kalas, Ivanovic, Cahill, Cole; Lampard, Mikel, Matic; Salah, Ba, Schurrle.

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 22:  Manager Jose Mourinho of Chelsea looks on from the dug out during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Chelsea at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 22, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

It may not be Chelsea's strongest side, but it's a starting XI full of internationals who are more than capable of beating Liverpool.

That selection would see David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta rested, meaning he could bring those two back for next week's key Champions League home match with Atletico, along with Hazard, Eto'o and Oscar.


Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.