Jose Mourinho has attempted to increase the pressure on Chelsea before the Champions League meeting with Inter Milan by warning his former club that he has constructed a new team in his image.
The former Chelsea manager said yesterday that Inter are in their best shape since he moved to Italy two years ago -- largely as a result of his transfer policy dealings.
Inter were easily beaten by Manchester United in the first knockout round of last season's Champions League, but Mourinho claims that Chelsea will face a different proposition when their two-leg tie begins at the San Siro next month.
At least his words carry some weight in terms of personnel, because the starting XI that beat AC Milan 2-0 on Sunday night -- to move nine points clear at the top of Serie A -- contained five changes from the side that slumped to a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford last year.
The Inter coach repeatedly claimed last season that, despite winning a fourth successive domestic championship, the players he inherited from Roberto Mancini were not good enough.
But he can no longer blame setbacks on his predecessor after completing a comprehensive overhaul. The Portuguese has transformed Inter's attack, bringing in three strikers in Diego Milito, Goran Pandev and Samuel Eto'o, signing Wesley Sneijder to operate behind two of them as a genuine No10, and recruiting Lucio to bolster a largely unchanged defence.
Mourinho is pleased with the results and, with another title almost secure, suggests that his side are ready to mount a strong challenge for the Champions League title.
"I think this team is better than last year, it's much better," he said. "Normally, if everybody is in good shape, we have more solutions. Of the team that played today, (Samuel) Eto'o was not here, (Dejan) Stankovic was not here, (Cristian) Chivu was not here, so, even with some problems, we are a team with more solutions. We are a better team.
"This is now my team, a team in my image. Year after year you change things according to your needs and your own philosophy. I have, in attack, the kind of players I like, players who can hold the ball and play football, not just score goals. A player like Sneijder is a player we didn't have last season, a creative player in midfield. Lucio is a better player in the air than previous defenders we had. I think the team has more chance of success."
Mourinho lavished praise on his former club, but warned that Inter will provide them with a difficult test. His diplomacy may not last long because he remains the most important managerial influence on many of the players at Chelsea, which he is likely to try and exploit in the build-up to the tie.
"We know we have a super opponent, but Chelsea knows they don't have an easy job with us," Mourinho said. "I know them, but they also know me. I know the players individually, of course, but most of them know my mentality and know my way of being a manager and a leader."
Mourinho resisted the opportunity to take aim at Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, with whom he clashed repeatedly last season, and pointed out that their meetings ended even. "My record against Ancelotti is OK, nothing special," he said.
"Last season was 1-1. When I was at Porto we lost to Milan in the Super Cup. He's not the kind of coach where I beat him 10 times and he never beats me."
Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou are expected back at Chelsea tomorrow after the Ivory Coast were knocked out of the Africa Cup of Nations to Algeria on Sunday. The strikers are expected to watch tomorrow night's match against Birmingham City from the stands at Stamford Bridge, but the pair will be available for Saturday's trip to Burnley.