It is no secret that José Mourinho and Chelsea Manager Antonio Conte are not exactly the best of friends. The two have feuded ever since the latter’s arrival in England a year and a half ago, and it has certainly been entertaining for anyone who loves some good Premier League mind games. With Conte’s Chelsea seemingly struggling both on and off the pitch, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s past with managers, and a difficult run of games coming up, it isn’t unreasonable to see the end may well be in sight for Conte. Here are 3 reasons why Jose Mourinho will have a hand in bringing about that end:
Mourinho has already won the mind games
Over the harsh holiday schedule Mourinho and Conte exchanged a good bit of trash talk. Adjectives such as “clown” and “little” were used describing the other, but Mourinho delivered a knockout blow by getting serious and bringing up Conte’s previous suspension for his involvement in a match fixing scandal in Italy. Though Conte maintained his innocence, and was later acquitted of involvement, serving the ban is still clearly a fresh wound as Mourinho’s comments sliced through him and he let his anger show.
In addition to the recent spat with Mourinho, Conte seems to be constantly following United as a rival to their success. Conte has repeatedly acknowledged United’s movements, including transfers and performances, and appears to be somewhat paranoid about the Mancunian side.
Conte’s reactions aren’t quite a Kevin Keegan meltdown, but Mourinho won the battle, and could win the war seeing how the mind games appear to have affected Chelsea’s form. The Blues drew 4 straight games in all competitions following the winter feud, and were then knocked out of the EFL Cup semi-finals following a 2-1 second leg loss at Arsenal. Despite bouncing back in the FA Cup, defeating Newcastle 3-0, the Blues’ Premier League struggles continued with humiliating 3-0 and 4-1 losses to Bournemouth and Watford respectively. The hot seat is now scolding, and silverware this season is looking increasingly unlikely.
Chelsea’s hopes of winning a trophy are further weighed down by their position trailing position behind Manchester City and the impending clash with Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, but more on that later.
Mourinho is driven by revenge
José Mourinho has been sacked only once in his managerial career, in the middle of the 2015-16 season by Chelsea (Although the term “mutual consent” was used to describe his departures from Chelsea in 2007 and Real Madrid in 2013). Chelsea found themselves facing a battle above the relegation zone after a Premier League championship season, and Abramovich decided a change in leadership was required. It may be the only significant failure in an otherwise already remarkable career.
After parting ways Mourinho took over the reins at Old Trafford while Conte was brought in at Chelsea for the 2016-17. As Conte’s Chelsea thrashed United at Stamford Bridge, Conte motioned to the crowd to make more noise, and the chant “F*** Off Mourinho” was used repeatedly by the crowd that once adored the Portuguese manager. Mourinho, of course, was upset. He called out Conte for the offense, but further embarrassment ensued as the players and fans backed Conte and Chelsea won their next two fixtures over the Reds at the Bridge, both games ending 1-0 in the FA Cup Quarter Final and League respectively. Mourinho’s United side did manage a notable 2-0 win over Chelsea, and have a chance at winning the return fixture in February.
The timing of the next United vs. Chelsea fixture
Chelsea next face Manchester United on February 25 with a visit to Old Trafford in the Premier League. The game is preceded by a mid-week first leg match at FC Barcelona in the Champions League, and it is succeeded by a matchup with League leaders City at the Etihad and the second leg match against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. Should Chelsea fail to earn wins amidst an onslaught of world class match ups they could be all but guaranteed to finish the season trophy-less, something no manager has survived at Chelsea since Abramovich bought the club in 2004.
It is also fair to say that Abramovich is trigger happy when it comes to managers. Luis Felipe Scolari, Andre Villas Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, and Mourinho have all been fired during the season for poor starts. Some weren’t even performing very poorly necessarily, but they failed to impress the helicopter owner.
Mourinho will know better than anyone that Conte’s days are numbered at Chelsea. Expect Mourinho to be ready for the chance to give him an extra push out the door, courtesy of a motivated and contending Manchester United squad.
The fact of the matter is that Conte has underperformed this season at the helm of Chelsea. Despite a transfer wallet as deep as the oil reserves of Siberia he made few meaningful transfers to improve his squad, a squad that was impressive enough as it was following a dominant 2016-17 Premier League winning campaign.
Conte has continued to regard Mourinho as a threat to his position, both in the Premier League and at Chelsea. His bitter personal rivalry with the United manager has been fun for the rest of the footballing world, but has only further distracted a Chelsea side that has been inconsistent across competitions all season.
Conte said himself: “I want to avoid, and the players want to avoid, the last season with Mourinho.” Those words now haunt him and his supposed reigning champions. His bitterness and eagerness to slight a man whose job he has already taken reveals how truly pathetic his mind games are. He has exacerbated his own situation by making even more enemies, and, come the final whistle vs. Barcelona on March 14, the Ides of March could spell doom for the Antonio Conte era at Chelsea.