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Mourinho defends Suarez for Ivanovic bite

ESPN staff
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Mourinho: Liverpool are title contenders


Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has defended Luis Suarez as the Liverpool striker prepares to face Branislav Ivanovic for the first time since last season's infamous biting incident.

Liverpool travel to Stamford Bridge on Sunday looking to underline their status as title contenders, and Suarez - who has scored 19 goals in 13 Premier League games this season - has been central to that.

Even so, Suarez missed the start of the campaign as he served the remainder of the 10-match ban the FA handed down in April when he bit Ivanovic in a 2-2 draw at Anfield during Rafael Benitez's time in charge of the Blues.

Ahead of Sunday's game, Mourinho played down the incident.

"Everybody makes mistakes," he said. "This was a big thing, but Iva thinks it's something from the past. Everyone moves on - he's moved on. I think Iva is a big guy. When I say 'big guy', I mean big, strong heart, big strong personality. He's not a Mickey Mouse player who complains at little things."

The Uruguay international had also publicly declared that he wanted to leave Anfield during the summer as the Reds failed to qualify for the Champions League, but Mourinho has been impressed by the way he has responded after being told to stay.

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"Every player is different and every player has his own personality," he said. "It happens a lot during the summer, players that want to leave, and after that it depends on them when they are 'forced' to stay.

"It depends more on the player's personality and approach to that situation. It depends on them to have revenge in the negative way: by not performing, by not being interested, by not being committed.

"It is up also to them to say: 'OK, you kept me, but I am a professional and I want to do my work properly and I want to be an honest guy' and so on and so on. It looks like Suarez since the moment he was 'forced' to stay, I think his answer was magnificent. You can see his motivation every game."

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, meanwhile, believes Suarez is starting to win over his critics after his early problems in England.

"He's absolutely in the right place," Rodgers said. "Supporters around the country are marvelling at his talent and he is gaining the understanding of the culture here.

"Throughout South America and parts of Europe it is part of the game to maybe get the referee to make a decision for you. He has recognised and realised that this is a country where honesty is very much at the forefront of the game.

"He's well on the way to being the PFA Player of the Year. Whether he gets the award or not, there certainly hasn't been a better player consistently this season and he'll be looking to continue along that vein.

"It would be a great testament to not only him but [to us] as people as well. People get knocked down, we like to see that sometimes in this country, but we're also a nation that will pick people up again, and that's something you can see in the football world with Suarez."

Rodgers said that after the Ivanovic incident, Suarez - who was also handed a lengthy ban in 2011 after the FA found him guilty of racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra - "probably thought he couldn't have gone any lower."

He added: "I know he was in a real bad place at the time and sometimes in life it takes you to get to that point and you have to assess it and you go one of two ways. In that period there were a lot of difficult moments for him but as he became closer to staying and realising he was going to be playing fairly quickly, he's been exemplary in his behaviour.

"On the pitch everyone can see the maturity and his level of performance speaks for itself."

Beyond Suarez, the match also sees Mourinho reunited with Rodgers, who had worked as part of the Portuguese's coaching team during his first spell with Chelsea.

"He was always a very open guy, open to learn, open to give his opinion, very interested in the game," Mourinho said. "We like him very much, me and my staff. We liked him very much since he started working with us."

Mourinho took part in a number of memorable contests with Liverpool during his initial stint with Chelsea and he expects another tough encounter.

He said: "You only have rivalries with big clubs - you don't have rivalries with small clubs, and Liverpool is a big club.

"They were fighting with us for titles, for Champions League semi-finals, for cup finals, so it's normal. But at the same time I'm full of respect for Liverpool as a club, for Liverpool's history. I always had that and I haven't changed that because I am at a rival club."

Suarez and Ivanovic clashed last season © Getty Images
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