José Mourinho did not want to play. The Chelsea manager shrugged a lot and he resolutely refused to unpick the verbal grenades that were tossed towards him. Perhaps, he was narked by the mention of the clásico between Barcelona and his old club, Real Madrid, from where he had departed under a cloud last summer. Or, maybe, he was simply choosing to play it tight before Sunday's Premier League visit of Manchester City, which feels like the acid test of Chelsea's recently generated momentum. Either way, it was unusual.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Mourinho had referred to City as a shark, the biggest one in the country. It was a nod towards their lavish spending, the like of which has not been seen in English football since, well, Mourinho's first spell at Chelsea, when Roman Abramovich effectively provided the template for Sheikh Mansour.
"There is no difference," Mourinho said, referring to Chelsea then and City now. "And football needs sharks. Football needs. Are City the biggest shark? Yes. Chelsea are a clever shark [these days]. The shark that knows when to attack and how to attack."
This was more like it. Mourinho loves an animal-based analogy and he would surely have been inspired further had he seen the Chinese lady who was dressed as a leopard outside the club's training ground on Friday, pushing for an autograph through John Terry's wound-down car window. She was brandishing some sort of placard in support of the captain and Frank Lampard. Surreal did not cover it.
But as it was, Mourinho had framed 's showdown as a battle between man-eating predators. Chelsea have gone seven matches in all competitions without defeat but this was the time for them to bare their teeth. Manuel Pellegrini's City are wonderful to watch when they crash forward, yet Chelsea know when to attack and how to attack. There is the potential for blood to be spilled.
Mourinho's shark talk, though, had a broader message. City were the biggest fish, he suggested, by dint of their massive net spend in Pellegrini's first summer in charge – the figure was around £90m – and, as such, they had to be considered as the title favourites. "You have to say that," Mourinho said. "You said that in 2004 and 2005 [about Chelsea, after Abramovich's spending]."
But Mourinho was clearly uneasy to the point of unhappy about City's outlay in the context of Uefa's financial fair play regulations. Was he surprised about the extent of City's business: the club signed Fernandinho, Álvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic, Jesús Navas and Martín Demichelis for a total of more than £100m?
"That's a good question," Mourinho replied. "But I have no answer. Uefa must have the answer. If we are working, thinking about the financial fair play, I think the rules are for everybody. I am not saying City are not following the rules, I don't know. I'm not there to control their numbers. I speak about Chelsea, not about City.
"Chelsea has changed [their approach] a lot and Chelsea has changed, thinking that the financial fair play is going to be in practice. And, of course, Chelsea want Uefa to rule the situation and to find if somebody is not doing the same."
Mourinho reverted to pre-match build-up type when he was asked about City's huge sponsorship deal with Etihad Airways, the company that is owned by the Abu Dhabi government and has close links to Sheikh Mansour, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family. "You are the journalist, the investigator," he said, with a shrug. "I don't know."
It was a tough gig to portray Chelsea as the plucky outsider but Mourinho was happy to lever the pressure on to City and Pellegrini, his old rival from La Liga. Mourinho succeeded him at Real in 2010 and, when Pellegrini joined Málaga in November of that year, the pair were on opposite sides for three seasons.
There was little love lost. Pellegrini was sacked by Real after one season, in which he accrued a then club record La Liga points tally of 96, even if it was not enough to beat Barcelona to the title. Mourinho's response? "Second place is just the first loser. If Madrid were to fire me, I wouldn't go to Málaga. I'd go to a top-level team in Italy or England."
Mourinho raised his eyebrows as high as possible when it was put to him that Pellegrini had signed a couple of decent players in the summer of 2009, which were bequeathed to him, namely Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. "Him?" Mourinho said, with the inference that Pellegrini had nothing to do with the deals.
Mourinho also said that Pellegrini had not been sacked by Real because of the second-placed finish, rather the last 16 Champions League exit at the hands of Lyon. "That's what I was told," he said. "But that's not my problem." City appointed Pellegrini partly because of his eye-catching Champions League results with Málaga last season.
Mourinho spoke of his desire to see the defender David Luiz find "stability" in his game – in other words, cut out the crass individual errors – while he talked up his strikers and said that he hoped to avoid the club's now traditional slump at around this time of the year. But City lurk. Mourinho has the harpoon trained.