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Palace provide Mourinho marker

MOURINHO-RACISMLONDON, October 17- Jose Mourinho will judge the progress of his Chelsea side when the Premier League leaders travel to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday.

The Blues manager was highly critical of his team when they lost last season’s corresponding fixture at the end of March and questioned the resilience and mental strength of some of his players.

That defeat contributed to Chelsea’s failure to sustain their title challenge but Mourinho believes his squad is now worthy of being regarded as genuine contenders this time around.

An unbeaten start to the season has lifted Mourinho’s side to the top of the table, five points clear of second-placed Manchester City, the defending champions, just seven games into the season.

Recent signings Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have settled in immediately to Chelsea’s squad, with Costa’s nine league goals marking the Spain forward out as the division’s form striker.

And the victory over Arsenal before the recent international break prompted suggestions Mourinho’s side could go on and match the Gunners’ achievement of 2004 and go through the league campaign unbeaten.

Seven months ago, Chelsea lacked the ability to overcome a Palace side battling to avoid relegation.

Since then, Neil Warnock has replaced Tony Pulis as Palace manager and with two victories in their last three games –- against Everton and Leicester — the Eagles’ season has started to gather momentum.

But the presence of Costa and Fabregas mean Chelsea should present a more effective cutting edge.

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And Mourinho’s efforts in transforming his team has reinforced his reputation in the eyes Warnock, who believes Chelsea could remain unbeaten.

– ‘Tactically spot on’ – 

“It is a possibility,” said Warnock. “When you look at the Arsenal team that did it, I think this is as near as you are going to get to a flawless team. 

“It’s pretty solid everywhere. There are not many weaknesses in the team.

“I was in the media last season and I tipped them to win the title. How they nearly won it without a striker, it was incredible.

“Now they have got a top-class striker in Diego Costa, Jose must be quietly confident of winning the title.”

Warnock added: “I think Mourinho is the best there is. He’s great for the press, he’s always quoting something.

“When he came on the scene, he was such a good-looking so-and-so as well.

“He’s a good manager, he’s a players’ manager. I’m sure he’s said a few things over the last 12 months that he might have regretted later but that’s the way it is.

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“Tactically, when it comes to the tough games, he’s spot on,” Warnock said.

Eden Hazard is likely to start after recovering from a toe injury and Andre Schurrle is expected to shake off the effects of ‘flu.

Centre-back Scott Dann will be Palace’s only absentee with a foot problem but Warnock accepted the odds are stacked against his side repeating last season’s success.

“It’s going to take a superhuman effort. It’s a difficult task for anyone that plays them.

“You say Costa, but Hazard, Oscar and Fabregas — they’re all top-class players. I worry about our players, not theirs. If you think about theirs you wouldn’t sleep.

“Everyone knows what they can do and you’ve got to hope they have an off day. You can help that by being well organised yourselves and I think we’ve got people who can cause problems for them.

“We’ve got to get our major players into the game as well and that’s what we’re trying to do. 

“Better teams than us tried to beat them and failed so we have to do something special.”

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