LONDON (Reuters) – In case they needed it, the short trip to Crystal Palace will re-focus Chelsea’s globe-trotting players on matters at home as the Premier League slips back into gear this weekend after the second international break of the season.
Like most of their Premier League rivals, Chelsea’s squad was scattered far and wide after their 2-0 home win over Arsenal on Oct. 5, a result that left them five points clear after six wins and a draw from their opening seven matches.
The leaders will need no reminding, however, that modest Palace will have scant regard for Chelsea’s clear squad superiority come Saturday afternoon in south east London.
A 1-0 defeat at Palace in late March, when John Terry’s own goal sealed their fate, put a serious dent in Chelsea’s title ambitions last season and had Mourinho accusing some of his players of “disappearing” against certain low-key opponents.
It is unlikely to happen again, given the improvements Mourinho has made to his squad during the close-season and the clear hunger of his side to reclaim the Premier League trophy after an absence of four seasons. Chelsea’s German World Cup-winning forward Andre Schuerrle said Mourinho’s unrelenting will to win is one of the driving forces behind their blistering early season form.
“To him, finishing second is a failure,” the 23-year-old told Bild. “He doesn’t know the word ‘losing’. That’s how he holds his talk before the matches. His thinking is impressive – as impressive as the way he gets his message across.
“He challenges you to be robust on the pitch, to play like a man. To commit a foul. I feel much better since joining Chelsea and I have become much more confident.”
Yet Mourinho would still have been anxious as he counted his players back in through the training ground gates this week. He would have kept a particularly careful eye on Spain striker Diego Costa, whose nine league goals since signing from Atletico Madrid have fuelled Chelsea’s flying start. Despite concerns over his hamstring, Brazilian-born Costa played the full 90 minutes in Spain’s surprise Euro 2016 qualifier loss to Slovakia and all but eight minutes in the win over Luxembourg when he scored his first goal for his adopted country.
Cesc Fabregas and Cesar Azpilicueta were also on Spain duty, Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, who suffered a head injury against Arsenal, were with Belgium while Gary Cahill featured in England’s wins over San Marino and Estonia.
Serbia’s Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic both played in Serbia’s flashpoint match against Albania in Belgrade that was abandoned after fighting broke out on Tuesday.