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LONDON (AP) — Job done, Jose.
In a classic diversionary tactic, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has successfully shifted the Premier League agenda onto the "campaign" by referees — in his mind at least — against his players.
With the conveyer belt of Premier League controversies stopping again at players who dive, few are discussing Chelsea's comparative struggles on the road in the Premier League.
Although it's nine wins out of nine at Stamford Bridge, Sunday's 1-1 stalemate at Southampton was Chelsea's fourth away draw — as many as the entire 2013-14 season when Mourinho's homecoming ended in third place.
Chelsea does head into the second half of the season at the Premier League summit. But the lead is flimsier than some pundits anticipated when imprudently issuing premature predictions a month ago that the Blues would run away with the title without losing — just before they did just that at Newcastle.
Mourinho won't tolerate another season without a trophy. Perhaps owner Roman Abramovich will also grow restless again with the Special One.
So an enemy appears useful for Mourinho to create a siege mentality at Chelsea: It's us against the world, or referees at least.
What set Mourinho off this time? Referee Anthony Taylor booked Cesc Fabregas for simulation when the midfielder went down in the penalty area after being caught by Southampton's Matt Targett. It came weeks after Chelsea's Diego Costa and Willian were booked for apparently diving in a win against Hull, whose manager Steve Bruce drew comparisons with the London club and "Swan Lake".
"There is a clear campaign against Chelsea," Mourinho grumbled on Sunday, believing Taylor was influenced by the previous simulation sanctions.
Expanding on Fabregas' booking, Mourinho said: "In other countries where I worked before, tomorrow in the sports papers it would be a front-page scandal because it is a scandal."
It was very different in April 2013 when Mourinho's reign as Real Madrid coach was ending in acrimony and he openly flirted with Chelsea just before sealing his return.
"I know in England I'm loved," the Portuguese said in Spain after another Champions League campaign ended prematurely. "I'm loved by the media that treats me in a fair way, criticizing me but giving me credit when I deserve it.
"I know I'm loved by some clubs, especially one (Chelsea). And in Spain, the situation is a bit different because some people hate me. Many of you are in this room."
Now the fights are being picked again in England — with referees.
When it's convenient he is their arch advocate, though.
In August 2013 — at the start of his second spell at Chelsea — Mourinho lavished praise on "English referees, people who love the game and who love to communicate" following the team's UEFA Super Cup loss to Bayern Munich so as to make his case against a Swedish official seem less vindictive.
Jonas Eriksson is still officiating — unlike compatriot Anders Frisk who retired after receiving death threats from Chelsea fans in 2005. Mourinho had accused the Barcelona coach of trying to influence referee Frisk during halftime of a Champions League game. Along with a touchline ban, Mourinho was accused by UEFA of being "the enemy of football."
Mourinho has mellowed slightly. While lambasting Taylor's "big mistake" at Southampton, the denunciation was followed by an insistence the referee is a "good guy, an honest guy."
If the outcome is referees become wary now of booking Chelsea players for tumbling in the penalty area, and more likely to award penalties instead, Mourinho will undoubtedly deem his outburst a success.
If only referees could defend themselves, with the lifting of the Premier League vow of silence.
"Perhaps it would serve a higher purpose for the referee to attend a press conference with his supervisor alongside him," former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson wrote in his recent autobiography, which complains on the next page how he lost European matches against Mourinho's teams "not because of performance of the players but because of the referee."
In deploying diversionary tactics, Mourinho has learnt from the master. However, while Ferguson's rants were laced with vitriol, Mourinho's outbursts seem far more calculated and entertaining.
And it was his tantrum being constantly replayed on television on Monday in England, rather than a discussion of his tactics at Southampton.
It may backfire on Mourinho. Despite Taylor's clear mistake in penalizing Fabregas, the sympathies outside Chelsea could well be with the maligned officials — particularly in the refereeing community.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris
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