Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho maintains Manchester United are still genuine Premier League title contenders, but believes the festive programme could whittle down the opposition for the trophy. “This weekend Tottenham-Liverpool, somebody loses points, us against Arsenal, somebody loses points, Arsenal against City, somebody loses points.” Chelsea’s aim is to stay in contact. Mourinho added: “Five points is a gap that is not a drama, but we have to try (to ensure) that the five-point gap doesn’t open, at least. “With a five-point gap (and) two matches (in) one week, everything can change. “When you go instead of five to eight, nine, 10 (points), the situation is more complicated.” Mourinho, who won the title in 2005 and 2006 in his first two seasons with Chelsea, has long insisted the challenge on his return is more difficult, with a squad in transition. He wants his players to have the mentality of one of the favourites, even if he believes other sides have a better title chance, after finding a team built for the short-term under his predecessor Rafael Benitez. Mourinho added: “Benitez was chasing results. He was not worried about the building up of a team with a certain style. We didn’t have a real base to start with. “For many reasons we knew that the situation needs time and patience. We are competing against important teams in a very difficult league where you don’t have one single easy match. We knew it would be difficult. “We are not favourites, but we want to feel as favourites. We want to fight the favourites and we want to feel like we are. “To put ourselves under a little bit of pressure only can help to be better. I want that.” Whether Mourinho is afforded the patience others have not at Chelsea remains to be seen, but what is in little doubt is that his side are favourites for Saturday’s London derby with relegation-threatened Palace. Defender Gary Cahill will be rested, with the upcoming fixtures in mind. Mourinho said: “Is he injured? No. He is almost injured, so we decided to kill the almost and to protect the little pain he is feeling on his quadriceps.” Ashley Cole will return to the substitutes’ bench, with Spain right-back Cesar Azpilicueta taking his place at left-back, and is instead selected for next week’s Capital One Cup quarter-final at Sunderland. Mourinho, who would not comment on reports Chelsea are targeting Southampton’s Luke Shaw as a long-term left-back successor to Cole, added: “In positions I can, I need fresh people. I need Azpilicueta to play tomorrow, I need Ashley Cole to be fresh to play in Sunderland. “I trust both. I choose the one I think is better for the occasion. It’s good to have options.” “They have to recover points not to one single team, they have to recover points to every other team,” Mourinho said. “It’s difficult. Not just because it’s 13 to Arsenal, but also because it’s eight to us and to Liverpool and seven to City. “But as I keep repeating, the culture of Man United is there, the power and the quality of their players is there, the tradition is there. “When mathematically it’s very possible, I never say Man United is out of the race.” Mourinho is well aware the results over the festive fixture programme can have a major say on the destination of the trophy come May. “Let’s see if after Christmas we can say instead of six (contenders), five,” Mourinho said. “Maybe one drops back or maybe one goes so up that it looks impossible to reach. “It’s very difficult to predict the way things are going. One thing is if we beat Arsenal, another thing is if Arsenal beat us. We can close the gap or they can open the gap. Chelsea play Crystal Palace on Saturday and will bid to respond from last weekend’s loss at Stoke and enter the weekend’s fixtures trailing leaders Arsenal by five points. Manchester United are 13 points adrift in ninth place, currently sixth of the six teams Mourinho counts as title contenders. Press Association
Pardew said: “The characters grow, the characters will grow as we go along. “This is a difficult club to play for, I think. It can be the greatest club in the world to play for when you are winning, but we are not winning, so it becomes even harder to play for us, and we need to make sure we can handle that. “These players are going to learn more in the next six weeks, probably, than they have for the last two years of their careers.” Even the most opinionated of Newcastle fans have largely been able to compartmentalise their support for the team and their distaste for Pardew and owner Mike Ashley over the years, but for a growing section, patience has now run out. The manager has been subjected to sustained criticism before, during and after recent games, and he admits that cannot have gone unnoticed by the players. He said: “It’s something you can’t disguise from them. Initially this season, the third or fourth game in prior to Southampton, I could shield them to a degree, and I was trying to shield them from the pressure that was coming on me. “But I think it’s too late now. The pressure is going to come through the team, it’s coming through the staff, it’s coming into the training ground, so although it is signalled on me, of course the whole squad is feeling it. “It’s really important for us on Saturday that we give a performance that gets us clapped off at the end, even if it isn’t good enough. I think that’s what we have got to look for on Saturday. “That will be my hope, that our fans clap our players off.” Pardew’s squad underwent significant change during the summer and the likes of Remy Cabella and Emmanuel Riviere, who have been thrown in at the deep end, have struggled to adapt during the early weeks of the campaign. Their lack of Premier League experience, coupled with the club’s failure to land a proven striker, have led some to call into question the club’s well-known transfer policy, although the manager insists that is unfair. He said: “The way players are brought in, it’s obviously a process that we go through, but the model is to buy younger players, and that makes it difficult if you are not winning. “This is the first season we have brought in new players again and not won. Every time I have been here, we have got off to a good start and it helps players bed in quickly. “We have produced some fantastic signings at this football club – I don’t think anyone would deny that – so we can’t suddenly say we have got it all wrong and this is the wrong model and these are the wrong players. “We have got to give them time, and it hasn’t helped, the fact that we haven’t won. But we haven’t got time to wait for players to come through. We need that to happen now. “Remy Cabella has got to start performing now, our younger players like Sammy [Ameobi] and [Paul] Dummett have got to deliver now. We aren’t hanging about anymore. You have to deliver now. “But that might not be a bad thing. If we were in this position with six games to go, I’d be worried. We’ve got a lot of games to go and we’re getting battle-hardened.” Press Association Alan Pardew is convinced his shell-shocked Newcastle players will be stronger for the experience once they have emerged from the storm in which they are currently engulfed. The Magpies travel to Swansea on Saturday without a win in their opening six Barclays Premier League games of the campaign and with their manager facing concerted calls for his departure. However, the 53-year-old believes there is the character within the dressing room not only to cope with a difficult situation, but to use it as a building block in the development of a new-look team.