Antonio Conte will not tone down his touchline exuberance when Chelsea renew hostilities with Manchester United on Monday night despite José Mourinho accusing the Italian of trying to humiliate him when the teams met in October.
Mourinho was less than impressed with the way his replacement at Stamford Bridge behaved when the league leaders thrashed United at Stamford Bridge. Facing his old side for the first time since his sacking in December 2015, Mourinho was infuriated by Conte whipping up the home support after N’Golo Kanté made it 4-0 to Chelsea. United’s manager, speaking in Italian, appeared to tell Conte he should behave like that “at 1-0, not at 4-0” and backroom staff of both clubs clashed in the tunnel after the final whistle.
Although Conte sought to play down suggestions that a rift had developed with Mourinho since that afternoon, saying that he saw no value in trying to play mind games with rival managers, he also defended his displays of passion and will not shy away from celebrating if Chelsea reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup at United’s expense.
“I think I’ve shown in my period at Chelsea, but not only here – always, in every team I’ve managed – that I live the game with great passion,” Chelsea’s manager said. “Sometimes I want to share my enthusiasm with my players, my staff and also the fans. It’s normal. We are not in the same way. But for me the most important thing is to try and win, and then think about another celebration.”
Conte was asked whether he had discussed the issue with Mourinho. “No, but it’s not important,” he said. “Nothing we have to clarify with him.”
Mourinho has often tried to gain psychological advantage over opposing managers but Conte insisted that he was not interested in a war of words.
“The most important thing is what happens on the pitch,” he said. “To prepare the team in the right way, with good organisation. This is the most important thing. To talk football. To think about my team, to try through work to improve my players. These are the most important things for me and for every coach.
“My players and I are focused on the game on the pitch, on the work, and to try and improve every day. The mind games, they’re strange, no? It’s strange to ask me this. I’m very focused on the pitch. The mind games don’t help you to win.”
Chelsea will be well rested compared with United, who are without the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic and have little time to recover from Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Rostov in the first leg of their last-16 Europa League tie. United will host the Russian club three days after the trip to Stamford Bridge, placing a strain on Mourinho’s resources, but Conte does not expect them to play a weakened side. In terms of depth, he believes that United and City have the strongest squads in England. The former are 17 points behind Chelsea, but Conte is not underestimating their threat.
“In October, before the game, I was sure we would face a great team,” he said. “The same now. I think Manchester United, with City, have the best squad in the league. They have a number of great players with great talent and great experience to win. It can be a really tough game, for us and for them.
“I think that now, for us, it’s better. In October we didn’t know our future. Now we are in March and we stay on top of the table. We have a good identity, a good team. So we are showing good football. But it will be a really tough game against United. We are facing a good team, very strong.”