Two managers. One game. Three massive points. Tensions are high between Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte as the rivalry between both managers threatens to boil over the edge. It all began in the 2016/17 season when the pair first met in Mourinho’s Stamford Bridge return and was subsequently beaten 4-0, with Conte urging the fans to cheer louder when the fourth goal was scored. Such was the disdain Mourinho felt, he claimed after the game that Conte was insulting and made them feel humiliated.
Since that remark, both managers have laid into each other with Mourinho most recently declaring his Italian rival a cheat via the accusation of Juventus’ match-fixing which caused Conte to be suspended. However, the Chelsea manager was cleared of all charges. This prompted Conte to brand Mourinho “a little man” and a “fake” after claiming he had to bring up the past in order to continue the argument.
The underlying tone of this rivalry is no doubt due to the fact that Mourinho most certainly feels Chelsea is still his home club. It has always seemed as if Mourinho never wanted to leave Stamford Bridge at all, even when he had lost his team’s confidence in his final season with The Blues. The Portuguese manager has always believed that Chelsea is the perfect team for him and there’s little to suggest that’s not true. Jose was settled in London and had a lot of success with Chelsea, winning them the league with the most points ever registered and dominating English football.
Since his first departure, he returned to Chelsea and won the title again, only to have a poor third season at the club, which led to his sacking. However, only a few months after that Conte was appointed and went on to win the league with Chelsea the subsequent year. For the Italian, that was a major achievement, especially considering it was his first season in England he also led The Blues to the FA Cup final.
However, upon taking the helm at the club, he had inherited a team that was more or less built by Jose Mourinho. Aside from a few signings, Conte very much relied on the old core to keep the team strong, mainly the likes of Gary Cahill, Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard and Cesar Azpilecueta, and until this season, Diego Costa. In fact, it was Mourinho who subtly mentioned how he was the reason The Blues were performing so well during the 2016/17 season. “They defend a lot and well, and they counter-attack and kill opponents, similar to my Chelsea.”
Saying that whilst being the manager of Manchester United does pose the question of whether Mourinho is happy at Old Trafford. If it were up to him, I’m sure he wouldn’t have moved anywhere and would have tried to have fixed the issue he was having in 2016. So, it is difficult for Mourinho in the situation he finds himself in. He has insulted Conte and was arrogant, something which is not new to him but he could end up having the last laugh.
Through all the insults, digs and backlash, you could easily forget that there is indeed a football game on Sunday. A win for Manchester United would be not just three points but a chance for Mourinho to demonstrate his superiority over Conte and truly prove that he is the better manager over the course of the season.
Just as equally, a win for Conte is very important. If the Italian claims victory at Old Trafford, he can close the gap on the Manchester club and not only gain three points, but also moral compensation. It will help him to persuade the Chelsea fans and the club owner that his very own team can successfully mount a title challenge, barring the exceptional Manchester City. There is a lot at stake at Old Trafford this weekend, so much that if United and Chelsea draw this game, it would be some sort of a relief for both sides. Yet such is the major rivalry at play that you wouldn’t count on Conte or Mourinho to settle for a draw.
And just in case fans weren’t already excited for this game, the last quote from Antonio sets this up nicely. “It will be an opportunity in the game against United when we go to Old Trafford. Me and him face to face. I’m ready. I don’t know if he’s ready.”
Question is: are you ready?