Chelsea manager Antonio Conte accused Manchester United of plotting to kick Eden Hazard into submission, after his side emerged victorious in a feisty FA Cup quarter-final at Stamford Bridge.
Ander Herrera was sent off after 35 minutes for two fouls on Hazard, with Conte suggesting United manager Jose Mourinho ordered his team to carry out an aggressive attempt to halt the Chelsea talisman in his tracks.
The perception that Hazard was the key instigator behind Mourinho’s demise as Chelsea manager last season as he under-performed in months before the club’s most successful manager was sacked added to the intrigue around the tactics, with Conte not holding back in his criticism in his press conference.
“My point of view is that we want to play football and for the first 25 minutes it was impossible for Hazard to play because he got a lot of kicks. I’m not crazy and it’s not only me who saw it,” said the Chelsea manager after his team secured a 1-0 win.
“He started receiving kicks and finished it receiving kicks, nobody can say that didn’t happen. A tactic doesn’t exist when you go to kick an opponent. It’s not football.
“Sometimes when you play against players with great talent you try to intimidate them and the ref must protect these type of players.”
While Mourinho publicly questioned Hazard’s character in his final weeks at Chelsea last season, Conte offered up these comments to banish the notion that his Belgian playmaker lacks the stomach for a physical battle.
“He showed great character, strong character,” he added. “After the first 25 minutes every player came short to receive the ball because they had fear of receiving a kick from behind.
“Eden showed great character, I know this. Some people may be surprised, but I’m learning to know him very well this season and he’s shown me this.”
Conte was also asked about his latest touchline altercation with Mourinho, after the pair clashed for a second time this season as tempers flared at Stamford Bridge.
The fourth official stepped in to separate the warring managers, but Conte was keen to play down the animosity.
“What happened on the outside for me is only (a) circus,” Conte stated. “The coaches are not important.”
Conte also offered his views on a semi-final against London rivals Tottenham, who were the last team to inflict a defeat on Chelsea back in January.
“It’s another tough game against a strong team,” he added. “It’s one win for us and one win for them (this season), for sure it will be an exciting game for the people and our fans.
“In this phase (of the FA Cup), Tottenham, Arsenal or Man City, the level is very high. We have to accept this. They’ve shown they are able to beat us but we’ve shown we are able to beat them, now we’ll see what the result is in the semi-final.”
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has angrily snapped back at the Chelsea supporters who taunted him during his side’s 1-0 FA Cup quarter-final defeat, after insisting he is still the club’s greatest manager in a passionate post match press conference.