Saturday 14 December 2019

Furious Conte slams Mourinho

Norwich City 0 Chelsea 0

David Luiz of Chelsea is challenged by Alex Pritchard of Norwich City during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Norwich City and Chelsea
David Luiz of Chelsea is challenged by Alex Pritchard of Norwich City during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Norwich City and Chelsea

Nick Ames

On this evidence Antonio Conte will spend the weekend directing his anger closer to home. The build-up to this largely sterile, listless affair had been dominated by the Italian's mutual antipathy with José Mourinho, a long-brewing feud now unfolding at a rate of knots and one that developed further after the game.

Clearly riled up, the Chelsea head coach called the Manchester United boss a "little man" and "fake" before issuing an apparent challenge in response to Mourinho referencing match-fixing allegations on Friday.

Antonio Conte called Mourhino a little man. Photo: Getty
Antonio Conte called Mourhino a little man. Photo: Getty

"The situation is very clear. I don't have anything to clarify," Conte said after yesterday's game. "It will be the opportunity in the game against United when we go to Old Trafford (on February 25). Me and him face to face. I'm ready. I don't know if he's ready."

Conte had been accused of failing to report his knowledge of an incident of attempted match-fixing during his time as Siena boss in 2011 and he duly served a four-month touchline ban in 2012. He was acquitted of any wrongdoing in 2016, shortly before taking over at Chelsea and Mourinho's revisiting of the matter irked the Blues boss. "I consider him a little man, I consider him a man with a very low profile," Conte added. "When there are these types of comments, before (making them) you have to know very well the truth."

If only events at Carrow Road had moved at that kind of speed: Chelsea barely created a clear chance to speak of against a brighter Norwich side that, although toothless, fully merited their replay. The fixtures continue to mount up and so, surely, will Conte's frustration that his squad simply lacks the depth to compete capably on all fronts.

David Luiz's return from a six-week injury absence was the most notable of nine changes made by Conte from the rollercoaster ride at Arsenal. Essentially the Chelsea manager rotated in a number of his less-used senior squad members; the bench, though, was a different matter and alongside Álvaro Morata sat six players with barely 10 appearances between them.

Grant Hanley of Norwich City is challenged by Pedro of Chelsea Photo: Getty
Grant Hanley of Norwich City is challenged by Pedro of Chelsea Photo: Getty

If the visitors could be forgiven for having other priorities, the same could hardly be said for Norwich, who lie nine points and seven places shy of the Championship play-off spots. Their coach, Daniel Farke, had pronounced himself a "deep believer in cup competitions" though and kept alterations to a minimum, the main interest being the lack of an out-and-out striker in a fluid front three.

One of them, James Maddison, had a shot blocked within four minutes as Norwich fizzed with intent. Josh Murphy had a go at Antonio Rüdiger down the left and Alex Pritchard, a playmaker of similarly deft touch to the vaunted Maddison, served notice that he would not be limited to a perch on the opposite flank.

Chelsea were almost punished when Luiz, dithering in his own area, was caught on the ball by Pritchard and fortunate to see it rebound out for a goal-kick. Murphy then cut inside and curled over.

A shot from Kenedy that deflected two yards wide off Christoph Zimmermann was notable mainly for the fact that it was Chelsea's first real moment of threat, and that was after 31 minutes.

Chelsea could hardly have been less incisive but emerged for the second half with more vigour and Zimmermann was forced to clear ahead of the poised Willian almost instantly. Then Willian finally forced Angus Gunn into a sharp save down to his left. He followed that with a driving run into the area and an effort that was gathered rather more comfortably.

There was less rhythm to Norwich now although a clumsy foul by Gary Cahill on Pritchard, again penalised with a yellow card by referee Stuart Attwell, was a reminder of their variation in the opposing half.

Pritchard, seemingly re-energised, watched a shot loop over off Danny Drinkwater as the half's midway point loomed but the game had yet to stretch out in the manner that both managers - neither enamoured with the prospect of a replay - might have preferred.

If Murphy had kept his cool rather than volleying wide after a fluffed punch by Willy Caballero, Norwich might have had their victory.


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