Standing up to Jose Mourinho could haunt Antonio Conte
The Manchester United vs Chelsea game in February promises to be a fiery encounter. Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho have been hurling barbs and insults back and forth. Some comments have bordered on downright embarrassing. Both teams are seemingly out of the title race but a fight for second place is in the cards. Liverpool beating Manchester City may bring about a temporary ceasefire as the two bosses reassess whether their seasons are indeed lost. As well, Mourinho has set his focus on beating City to Alexis Sanchez 's signature. Still, the level of vitriol between the two promises this feud will heat up again. Mourinho collects feuds like trophies but further antagonism may not be good for Antonio Conte.
The former Chelsea manager has never seen eye-to-eye with the new one. It's like putting two bantams in one pen with a single kernel of corn. Their mutual dislike reached an immediate fever pitch in their first encounter. When Conte did his typical mad dash between touchline and stands after the fourth and final goal in a humiliating defeat for United, Mourinho admonished him at the whistle, then in the papers. Most managers who have clashed with the Portuguese tend to leave their tensions on the pitch. Not Conte. He fired back.
As Chelsea were running away with the title, Mourinho then chose to bide his time. With the Blues staging a revival of sorts and his own team in a bit of a funk, Jose felt that time had arrived over the holidays.
When asked about not celebrating his own team’s goals, Mourinho replied he needn't "behave like a clown." Even though the two bosses had kept their distance in Chelsea's 1-0 win in November, reporters didn't miss the target of the dig.
Conte certainly agreed the insult was aimed at him. The Italian responded by launching an extraordinary attack on the Portuguese. Unable to find the English word, he reverted to his own language to label Mourinho senile. Conte is not one to be bullied. On the other hand, the strength of his reply suggests Mou is getting under his skin. With Alvaro Morata in a slump and no one picking up the slack, the Blues boss can't afford to be distracted. Mourinho, meanwhile, would love nothing better.
Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Rafa Benitez, and Mauricio Pochettino have all received severe tongue lashings from Mourinho. Let's not forget perhaps his all-time best zinger, calling Arsene Wenger a "voyeur."
Conte should understand he is playing a dangerous game with Mourinho. The Blues boss should focus on salvaging his team's season. A difficult clash against Barcelona beckons in the Champions League next month. Even sooner, he must play the second leg in the goalless Carabao Cup semifinal at the Emirates. The trip to Old Trafford isn't on the slate until February's end. Everything in it's time and place.
With the clash between Chelsea and United not yet on the horizon, it appears Mourinho is baiting his counterpart into taking his eye off the prize in the hopes the Blues will be in disarray when the clubs do meet.
Chelsea has a favourable run of league fixtures heading into that clash. Its form hasn't been the best though. Evidence the Leicester result. Mourinho smells blood in the water. He is circling, attempting to draw the Italian into a rash move. He would like nothing better than to win the match weeks before the kickoff.
In the latest salvo, Jose casually mentioned Conte's match-fixing links. Conte called him a "little man." In actuality, the Portuguese is just an inch shorter than the Italian. You'd have to say Mourinho won that exchange.
The FA could step in to douse pressure and tension but why? It's extremely entertaining and therefore good for business. Conte must remember it's all a sideshow however. Far more than his opposite number, he cannot afford to lose the main plot.