Jose Mourinho has warned Chelsea’s title rivals not to write off his team as they look to get their challenge back on track after a nightmare week.
Mourinho’s side crashed to a 3-1 defeat at Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday just days after conceding the initiative in the Premier League with a shock 1-0 loss at struggling Crystal Palace.
That setback in south London saw Chelsea knocked off the league summit by Liverpool and they now trail the leaders by two points, while third-placed Manchester City are two points behind them with two games in hand.
Mourinho declared Chelsea’s title challenge over after their defeat at Selhurst Park, but with Liverpool not in action until Sunday, victory over Stoke on Saturday would at least take the west London club back to the top of the table.
And after spending the entire season playing down his team’s title prospects, the Blues boss struck a more optimistic note ahead of Stoke’s visit to Stamford Bridge
“We were always in a virtual position and I always said the title race didn’t depend on us,” said Mourinho, who once again will be without injured Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o.
“What I like is the fact that with such a difference in goals, the difference in points is not so big.
“We are there, two points behind Liverpool and two ahead of Man City.”
While top spot remains within reach for Chelsea, the closeness of the title race means that they could kick off against Stoke in third place if City win at home to Southampton earlier on Saturday.
Last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Arsenal brought a run of four straight victories to an end for Manuel Pellegrini’s side, but they remain favourites for the title ahead of next weekend’s showdown at Liverpool.
City could have top scorer Sergio Aguero back from a hamstring injury for the game at the Etihad Stadium, but Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino says that his side will not be cowed.
“We always have the belief that we are going to win,” said the Argentine, who has not lost against the 2012 champions in two previous encounters.
“We know we are going to be facing a very tough side in Manchester City, a side that is definitely a candidate to win in the Premier League and are one of the best teams in England and Europe.
“Despite that we are still going with the belief that we are going to play our game and we are going to get something out of that game.”
– United seek Bayern boost –
Elsewhere on Saturday, Manchester United travel to Newcastle United buoyed by a vastly improved performance in their 1-1 draw at home to defending champions Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Bayern remain the favourites to reach the semi-finals ahead of next week’s return leg in Munich, but manager David Moyes has urged his players to build on their performance against Pep Guardiola’s side.
“We are hoping we will continue,” said the Scot, whose team go into the weekend 10 points below the top four.
“We have shown some good form at times and some inconsistent form. There have been some good signs in games and hopefully we will see that in the next game at Newcastle.”
Ahead of Liverpool’s trip to West Ham United on Sunday afternoon, the battle for fourth place will take centre stage when fourth-place Arsenal visit fifth-place Everton.
Five straight wins have taken Everton to within four points of Arsenal and they also have a game in hand, while last month’s FA Cup defeat at the Emirates Stadium will be a further source of motivation for Roberto Martinez’s side.
“I’m sure the fans will come out in their numbers. Hopefully we can put things right from last time we played them and push for that Champions League spot,” Everton midfielder James McCarthy said.
Fixtures (1400 GMT unless otherwise stated)
Aston Villa v Fulham, Cardiff v Crystal Palace, Chelsea v Stoke (1630GMT), Hull v Swansea, Manchester City v Southampton (1145GMT), Newcastle v Manchester United, Norwich v West Brom
Everton v Arsenal (1230GMT), West Ham v Liverpool (1500GMT)
Tottenham v Sunderland (1900GMT)