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Last Updated: May 20, 2007 - 10:48:48 AM
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Mourinho preparing for final battle
May 8, 2007 - 8:13:31 AM
Given a few weeks earlier, he had been talking merrily about the size of his pay-off. Those comments were widely interpreted as pragmatism, of insisting that he wanted to stay so as to maintain public - and legal - sympathy.

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[RxPG] London, May 8 - Wednesday's Premiership meeting between Chelsea and Manchester United will not be a title showdown, but it could yet be Jose Mourinho's final game at Stamford Bridge.

United sealed the Premiership title Sunday as Chelsea could manage only a draw away to Arsenal, leaving them seven points adrift with just two games remaining.

Even if Wednesday's clash is irrelevant in terms of the league, it retains an interest beyond being a dress rehearsal for the FA Cup final May 19.

'I will be back July 9 to prepare the team for next season,' Mourinho said after the game against Arsenal. 'I do not understand why there is still speculation.'

The opposing fans who had taken to taunting the Chelsea manager with chants of 'You're getting sacked in the summer' though may have a point.

There has been talk of a rift between Mourinho and club owner Roman Abramovich.

Even as early as August, Mourinho hinted in the aftermath of the Community Shield defeat to Liverpool of having had players foisted upon him.

'I have been given two great players,' he said, referring to forward Andriy Shevchenko and midfielder Michael Ballack, 'so I have to use them.'

The result was a switch away from the 4-3-3 formation that had served Chelsea so well in the previous two seasons, and the adoption of a 4-4-2 that, lacking natural width, made them even more pragmatic than they had been before.

Given that Abramovich is supposed to have fallen in love with football and decided to buy a club after witnessing Manchester United's epic 6-5 aggregate Champions League defeat to Real Madrid in 2003, it is hardly surprising he has been less than enamoured by Chelsea's style of football.

Mourinho has been further upset by what he sees as an erosion of his power within the club.

Danish coach Frank Arnesen has been placed in charge of scouting and youth development, and is understood to have been behind the signing of defender Khalid Boulahrouz.

Boulahrouz has suffered a disappointing season, and was sent off Sunday in conceding the penalty from which Arsenal took the lead.

Mourinho had regularly complained this season about the lack of youth players coming through at the club - moans that have not been hard to translate as jibes at Arnesen.

He has also given the impression of being pushed to pick an under performing Shevchenko, and the situation will not be eased by the arrival of the Russian-speaking Israeli coach Avram Grant from Portsmouth.

It had been suggested he would be brought in earlier in the season to help Shevchenko settle. Although Mourinho headed off that threat to his authority, Grant will take up a director of football role in the summer.

Chelsea are known to have approached the former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann with a view to taking over, something Mourinho insisted did not bother him.

'For me, a board is a board,' he said after the draw against Newcastle a fortnight ago.

'They can do what they want. I was telling for a long time I want to stay and they have the right to give their statement - when they want.

'If they decide to do it at the end of the season, that is their right. If they decide at the end of the season to sack me, it is their right to do it.'

Given a few weeks earlier, he had been talking merrily about the size of his pay-off. Those comments were widely interpreted as pragmatism, of insisting that he wanted to stay so as to maintain public - and legal - sympathy.

When United went to Chelsea last season, they lost 3-0, conceded the title and Mourinho's domination seemed to be growing by the day. It is a very different situation now.

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