As José Mourinho prepares to meet his former club Chelsea FC, the FC Internazionale Milano coach must feel like he is returning to an old house to find the fixtures and fittings just where he had left them.
That sense of how little has changed at Stamford Bridge since his departure in September 2007 hit home on a recent scouting mission to west London. Soon after his Italian champions had been paired with Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round, Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge for the first time to see the Blues beat Fulham FC 2-1. The 47-year-old was struck by a sense of deja vu.
"The last time I was there I was watching all the details with attention," he told UEFA.com. "Even the warm-up is the warm-up they did in our time. The way they defend set pieces is exactly the same. The position they have on set pieces is exactly the same. Sometimes they play a 4-4-2 diamond, sometimes they play 4-3-3, which are exactly the systems we worked when there."
Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and now Carlo Ancelotti have all followed in Mourinho's footsteps at Stamford Bridge. The Portuguese coach means no disrespect when he says he sees similarities with the side he led to two Premier League titles and two UEFA Champions League semi-finals during his three years at the club.
"I think it's a quality of a good coach – and Ancelotti is a good coach – to understand how the players feel most comfortable. And instead of making crazy changes, just fine tune, which is normal to keep a winning structure. I think Ancelotti's a very good coach and the team feels comfortable this way. And the team really is top – one of the best teams in the world."
Chelsea may hold no secrets for Mourinho, but he admits that such familiarity with the opposition could be a double-edged sword. "When I look at that team only Ivanović and Anelka are not players from my time. All the other boys: Petr Čech, Carvalho, Terry, Ashley Cole, Essien, Mikel, Drogba, Malouda, Joe Cole, Kalou; all of them are boys from my time.
"So it's a team without secrets for me. But at the same time I think I'm a coach without secrets for them. It will be easy for me, but I think also easy for them. I know them, but they know me. I know the way they play, the way they think, but at the same time they know the way I coach, the way I prepare my teams."
It was precisely to prevent the negative effects of an emotional return to the place he calls "home" for the second leg on 16 March, that Mourinho visited Stamford Bridge in December to watch that victory against Fulham. "Emotion, yes, when I went there, of course – I was going to my home, it was my home for three-and-a-half years.
"But, you know, I went there on purpose to watch a game, to see people for the first time [since leaving], to be in that stadium for the first time, because when I go there in March I want to go without emotions. So instead of it being the first time I go there, I was there a couple of weeks before. I want to be cool and ready for the game."
Mourinho had a great relationship with the Chelsea fans and is now equally loved by Inter supporters. That is not surprising, given that he led the Nerazzurri to the Scudetto in his first season and has put them on course to retain the crown.
After doing the double over rivals AC Milan this season, his popularity has soared to such an extent that he recently asked supporters to stop singing his name and praise the players instead.
"Yes, fans are important," he explained. "I think I had a good relationship with them at Porto and Chelsea, I have that now with Inter – a good empathy, we love each other, I feel the fans are always behind me and behind the team which is important."
It is one reason why Mourinho, who led FC Porto to the UEFA Champions League title in 2004, enjoys such a stunning home record. Sides he has coached have not lost a home league match for eight years, a sequence stretching back to a 3-2 defeat for Porto by SC Beira-Mar on 23 February 2002.
Another positive result at San Siro in the first leg on 24 February would set Inter up nicely for the return. "It's quite funny and a bit of contradiction because at home I never play for a draw, never," Mourinho said.
"I always play to win, so we do nothing to draw and keep the record, nothing! I feel no pressure about it. I feel the record is so amazing that I must feel very relaxed. One day I will have to lose, and when this day arrives I will be very happy because I will be able to say: 'I didn't lose at home for x years, I didn't lose at home for x matches'."
With a smile Mourinho then stressed that that run applies to domestic leagues only. Chelsea, however, will know just how well they have to perform to return from Mourinho's new home on a high.
You can watch and read the second part of this interview ahead of the second leg when José Mourinho discusses his return to Stamford Bridge and the importance of Wesley Sneijder to his side.
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.