Pitchside

Rodgers must ignore Mourinho’s mind-games and focus on his tactics

Pitchside

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Taking his teams to tough, intimidating grounds and being able to take the sting out of matches has been a hallmark of José Mourinho's managerial career.

Only this week he took his Chelsea team to high-flying Atlético Madrid for a Champions League semi-final first leg, without Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto'o from the start while he later lost both Petr Cech and John Terry to injury.

Mourinho recognised that the game probably wasn't going to go his way and predictably, pragmatism took hold over principle.

[SCRAPPY CHELSEA GET THEIR DUES]

The Blues played a narrow back four, with 3 defensive midfielders in front of them and even wide players Ramires and Willian in deep positions. Atlético were reduced to lofting balls into the box and Chelsea lapped it up, making more headed clearances (41) than any other team has done in a Champions League game all season.

It wasn't pretty, but Chelsea have left the tie in the balance for their home leg next week, in a stronger position than their opponents.

Up against Liverpool this weekend, Mourinho will have another intricately thought-out gameplan, but given that his side trail the Reds by five points at the top, he will have to go for the win. First things first, though, Chelsea will, as per usual under Mourinho, focus on stopping their opponents.

Plenty of big teams have gone to Anfield and capitulated catastrophically. Arsenal shipped five goals, Tottenham and Everton let in four, and City three. Each except Everton have been caught out in the opening 6 minutes, and even the Toffees only lasted 21 minutes without conceding. Mourinho's first task will be getting through the first half without letting the game - and title - get away from his side.

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Brendan Rodgers was not so long ago Chelsea's youth-team coach when Mourinho was in charge of first-team affairs. It looks like Rodgers may well have usurped his former boss, though, masterminding an incredible rise from a seventh-placed finish last season to a title-winning campaign.

The pace at which they start games has blown teams away within moments of kick off, and the pace of their attackers has proven too much to handle for the majority of the Premier League.

The Reds have scored more than twice as many counter-attacking goals (9) as any other team in the top flight this season, with Chelsea amongst the teams tied in second in this regard (4).

Given the likelihood that Mourinho will have his team sat back, Liverpool's threat on the break could well be negated. Instead, it will be Chelsea who look to counter, and given the Reds' defensive frailties - they are on course to become the Premier League winners with the worst ever tally in the goals against column - Chelsea's pace on the break could prove key.

Mourinho's Real Madrid side was famed for its counter-attacking threat and this Chelsea team have proven their acumen on the break on more than one occasion already.

While Rodgers will want his team to stick to the mantra that has served them well so far this season, he will need to be wary of Mourinho's nous that is sometimes clouded in the media by his tendency to drive attention towards his post-match comments.

[MOURINHO CONTRADICTS SELF ON WEAKENED TEAMS]

The Liverpool boss would be unfortunate to miss out on the manager of the year award this season, but arguably faces his biggest test of the season this weekend.

Rodgers versus Mourinho will undoubtedly be a fantastic battle between two of the Premier League's most interesting and intriguing managers.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

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