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Mourinho Hails Brave Drogba
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Jose Mourinho saluted Didier Drogba for fighting through the pain barrier to help Chelsea get their title challenge back on track.

Chelsea boss Mourinho wanted to rest Drogba for Wednesday's match against Newcastle because the Ivory Coast striker was struggling with a thigh injury.

But Drogba insisted he was willing to play even though there was a risk of aggrevating the injury and being ruled out for the busy Christmas fixture list.

Mourinho agreed to put Drogba on the bench but was planning to leave him there if Chelsea were in control against Glenn Roeder's side.

However, with the champions struggling to break down Newcastle in a match they desperately needed to win to keep up with leaders Manchester United, Mourinho was forced to send on Drogba at half-time.

The former Marseille forward responded with a battling display that was capped when he scored in the 74th minute to clinch a valuable 1-0 win that narrowed the gap on United to five points.

Mourinho said: "A normal player with a normal attitude wouldn't play this game and I was trying to protect him.

"I told him that normally if a player is out for 15 days he misses two matches, but if he was out for 15 days at this time of year he misses four or five matches.

"The best decision was to save him. If the result was positive at half-time I wouldn't have played him but it had to be.

"We needed him at the time, not just tactically but mentally as well. His attitude in the game and the way he works for the team was very important.

"He is now at the absolute top of his game. I can't say he is the best in the world but now is his moment."

Chelsea were well below their best and it needed Drogba to liven up a strangely subdued display.

Michael Ballack was once again a shadow of the player who starred for Germany at the World Cup, but Mourinho is adamant that the midfielder and Andriy Shevchenko, who was dropped to the bench but came on to set up the winner, remain major players for his side.

Sections of the Stamford Bridge crowd were quick to express their displeasure when Ballack sent a shot over the bar in the second half, but Mourinho will not be influenced by fans or the media.

"The fans don't make the team, I make the team. I don't select players because of the fans or comments in the press. I select players from my analysis of the team," he said.

"I have analysis through scientific technology and, based on my vision and knowledge of the game, Ballack is still untouchable.

"I take players out based on my analysis. If I take Shevchenko out because of the press I would have done it in the second week. I felt the team needed different qualities.

"How did he take it? As a good professional. He was not happy but behaved properly and gave a good contribution to the team when he came on."

Mourinho is confident United can still be caught even though he is in the unusual position of having to chase rather than lead from the front.

"It is a bit fake when you have matches in hand but now we both have 20 or so matches to play," he said.

"I am not happy because I want to be top but I am enjoying a new experience because I have never been second in December.

Newcastle boss Glenn Roeder took heart from the way his side, without 13 injured players, fought bravely.

Roeder faces being without French midfielder Charles N'Zogbia for several weeks after he suffered a knee ligament injury, but he said: "Jose could hardly expect with the team we had to see us come and be ambitious.

"He had to bring on Drogba and Shevchenko. I'm sure he would rather have left them on the bench and that is the magnitude of our performance.

"N'Zgobia has a knee ligament injury. We are already virtually into single figures for fit players but we kept going."

(China Daily December 15, 2006)

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