Monday 11 December 2017

Crafty Conte will not be rising to Mourinho's bait

Blues boss keeps focus on pitch ahead of Old Trafford showdown

Antonio Conte: Fully focused. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Antonio Conte: Fully focused. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

For Antonio Conte, the clue was as much in what he did not say as what he did, after his Chelsea team had maintained their relentless march towards the Premier League title.

Conte's record against Jose Mourinho this season stands at two wins out of two and the lingering tension remains obvious.

Cesar Azpilicueta joins in as Marcos Alonso celebrates after scoring Chelsea’s third goal. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Cesar Azpilicueta joins in as Marcos Alonso celebrates after scoring Chelsea’s third goal. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Mourinho pointedly noted after the FA Cup defeat that "Judas is still No. 1" in reference to his three Premier League titles after he was barracked by a section of Chelsea fans, but Conte apparently has no interest in heaping further compliments on the self-styled Special One.


Asked how much respect he had for Mourinho's past history at Chelsea, Conte simply feinted past what was an open goal to offer some complimentary sound bites.

"I have already replied to this question before the FA Cup game," he said, after Chelsea moved a step nearer the Premier League crown by beating Bournemouth 3-1 on Saturday.

Conte was more expansive in warning his players that they must overcome the emotion that will inevitably accompany a trip to Old Trafford on Sunday to face their former manager.

"The most important thing is on the pitch," he said. "For us, it's always important to control our emotion because we are playing and fighting to win the title."

Mourinho has questioned the attacking ambition this season of teams at Old Trafford and, before the FA Cup match, made what felt like a provocative observation about Chelsea's style under Conte.

"I'm surprised by the way they play. I thought there were demanding of a different kind of football," he said. "Chelsea is an amazing defensive team."

The statistics actually underline that the difference this season between Chelsea and Manchester United is explained by the extra attacking qualities of Conte's team.

The likely added pressure is that Chelsea will again be playing after Tottenham Hotspur, their nearest challengers in the Premier League, next Saturday.

Chelsea handled the knowledge of Tottenham's 4-0 win against Watford without difficulty as they saw off Bournemouth.

"If you compare these two games - we face United away and Tottenham face Bournemouth at home - I think that it's easier for Tottenham to take points in their home stadium," said Conte.

"I think Manchester United for sure will have good motivation because they are playing against Chelsea. We are having a good season, but we want it to become a great season. To become a great season and to write history you must win."

Chelsea were quite fortuitous to lead 2-1 at half-time on Saturday, with Joshua King scoring a brilliant goal for Bournemouth after Adam Smith's own goal and then a moment of pure class from Eden Hazard.

Yet what was ultimately so impressive about Chelsea was that, having reinforced their advantage with Marcos Alonso's free-kick, they simply shut Bournemouth out of the game.


Conte, whose demand for improvement is clearly ceaseless, also stressed that N'Golo Kante's superb assist for the Hazard goal underlined how even the likely Footballer of the Year can still improve.

"N'Golo has to improve," said Conte. "If he is able to improve this situation, he is a top, top player.

"For every good coach, their real function is not only to win, but improve players and to find the right way to work with them to improve physical and tactical aspects."

It is something that Eddie Howe has also done brilliantly with his Bournemouth players and notably King, who has now scored 13 Premier League goals this season.

"He's got all the attributes. Pace, strength, and he's started to score goals on a regular basis," said Howe.

"If he can continue to do that then he can go anywhere he wants." © Daily Telegraph, London.

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