LONDON • Jose Mourinho came out fighting yesterday, after Chelsea's worst start to a top-flight season since 1986.
The Portuguese growled and sneered but also grinned.
It would be easy, he said, to pretend his football team have been so sluggish in defending their English Premier League crown as he is targeting success in the Champions League, but that is simply not true.
The 52-year-old remains a manager who wants to win it all and dislikes conjecture and the notion that his club are in crisis.
"At other clubs you have to go back two, three, five, six, 10 years to remember good results," Mourinho said. "In our case, you have to go back three months.
"Three months (ago), we were the best team in the country, the best manager, the best players.
"So we are not happy but we know what we are. I am the current champion of England: Why should I be in trouble?"
Chelsea, then, deserve the benefit of the doubt, in his view, and they can go some way to silencing their doubters today when their Champions League campaign begins against Maccabi Tel Aviv. The latter are in form and offer a proper test of the supposedly demoralised group at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho retains the backing of owner Roman Abramovich and will make several changes to the starting line-up.
His response to a dreadful run of one win in five Premier League matches will be to drop several key players for today's game, with Branislav Ivanovic, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas most under threat.
His patience appears to have snapped after Saturday's 1-3 loss away to Everton. And he will give several squad players an opportunity to impress against Maccabi, with the promise that a good performance will be enough to stay in the side for Saturday's Premier League match at home to Arsenal.
"I will make a couple of changes because I have to try a different dynamic," he said. "I have to try and give chances to people who have not been playing but have been working hard."
Chelsea have conceded 12 goals in five league matches this season; they did not ship as many last term until their 15th game.
Ordinarily, a home fixture against a Maccabi outfit perceived as the weakest team in a group also featuring Porto and Dynamo Kiev would be regarded as a welcome opportunity to record a big win and restore flagging confidence.
But Chelsea's turbulent start has some fans with long memories worried that Mourinho is about to be haunted by the ghosts of his first spell at the club.
In 2007, Chelsea went into their Champions League opener against Norwegian minnows Rosenborg in disarray after a poor run in the Premier League and a bitter power struggle with Abramovich.
That fixture, which ended in a tepid draw, turned out to be the final match of Mourinho's reign as he was sacked the next day.
Yesterday, he bristled at suggestions that, on past form, his third season was when everything generally went wrong.
He pointed to success in previous stints in London and Madrid.
"My third season at Chelsea the first time, I won the FA Cup and the Carling Cup, and I played the Champions League semi-finals.
"The third season in Real Madrid, I won the Super Cup, lost the Cup final and I went to the Champions League semi-finals.
"These are my third seasons.
"So click Google instead of asking stupid questions."
He insisted that his squad remain united and he has the confidence of Abramovich. With a new, sharp haircut and a deadpan expression, he described himself as "special and happy".
Abramovich is also said to be sympathetic to Mourinho's predicament, as the manager was unable, for a variety of reasons, to sign the players he wanted during the summer. The Russian will give him time to turn things around and will back him with funds during the January transfer window.
But out to give Mourinho more misery is the familiar figure of Slavisa Jokanovic, a Blues midfielder from 2000 to 2002 who took over as Maccabi boss in the off-season.
"It is a shock to see Chelsea start like this," he told the Evening Standard. "We are not arriving as tourists. We are going to fight and try and cause another surprise."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
CHELSEA v MACCABI TEL AVIV
Singtel TV Ch111 & StarHub Ch202, tomorrow, 2.40am