Chelsea host Manchester United on Sunday in a potentially pivotal encounter in the Premier League title race, but a reunion of Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho is sure to provide equal entertainment.
The pair have kept a feud simmering along nicely during the first few months of the season,a quarrel started in Conte’s successful first term in England in 2016-17.
Of course, Mourinho is no stranger to picking fights with other managers – he’s done it enough this season already – but he and Conte are not the only ones among England’s so-called ‘big six’ to have exchanged some tit-for-tat.
A desire to deal a spot of damage to their rivals seems to be endemic to the title chase, which is making for some fascinating watching and highlights the pressure the big guns are feeling as they scrap for the domestic crown.
Here’s a run-down of some of the 2017-18 spats and the reasons behind them…
CONTE V MOURINHO: BIG SPENDING, BIG HAIR AND ‘CRYING ABOUT INJURIES’
Conte and Mourinho weren’t the best of friends last season and things don’t seem to have become any better.
The United boss slammed his counterpart for celebrating jubilantly on the touchline when he lost 4-0 against his old club last October, accusing Conte of “humiliating” him. It led to months of jousting about United’s spending, unfair red cards and which side really did more defending.
The argument has never quite boiled over into an all-out battle but neither have they been able to let sleeping dogs lie. As early as July, United’s manager took a shot at Conte’s lusciously restored hairline when the Chelsea boss warned against “a Mourinho season” (in other words, a horror show ending in his departure).
Things were reignited last month, as Mourinho seemed to train his sights on Conte again when he remarked on injury problems. “Other managers, they cry, they cry, they cry when a player is injured,” he said. “If I want to moan and cry like the others, I can cry for the next five minutes. But I don’t.”
Conte responded by telling Mourinho to keep his focus squarely on his own team, before trying to ease some of the growing tension by saying: “I think these are stupid things, a stupid issue. It’s fun to see your interest in this! I’m surprised.”
Really? We’re not.
— Premier League (@premierleague) October 23, 2017
KLOPP V MOURINHO: WHO’S REALLY ON THE DEFENSIVE?
Just like last year, United’s trip to Liverpool in October was billed as a colossal clash in keeping with the traditions of the fixture. Just like last year, it was a big, flabby disappointment.
David de Gea made a brilliant save to deny Joel Matip and Romelu Lukaku was thwarted by Simon Mignolet, but the match was otherwise 90 minutes of Liverpool possession and lukewarm endeavour.
Unlike his team, though, Mourinho went on the offensive. Having been criticised for being overly cautious in his set-up, the Portuguese instead accused Jurgen Klopp of being too scared to take any risks against the United counter-attack, even though Liverpool were in desperate need of ending a run of one win in seven games.
Klopp didn’t take too kindly to the jibe. “We could not play like this in Liverpool after 125 years without a title. You start trying it, we sit back… come on, that’s not possible,” he said of Mourinho’s tactics.
At least the managers were more entertaining than the match.
GUARDIOLA V POCHETTINO: WHEN A ‘HARRY KANE TEAM’ BECAME AN INTOLERABLE INSULT
Pep Guardiola has had little to moan about given Manchester City’s spectacular form, and even if he did, the Catalan has rarely aired his dirty linen in public.
That’s why it came as a shock when he seemed to belittle Tottenham and, in so doing, undermine the work of Mauricio Pochettino, another manager of notable placidity.
Fresh from watching City overcome Chelsea with the nearest you’re likely to get to a 1-0 thrashing, Guardiola warned people not to underestimate their title rivals, including United and “the Harry Kane team”.
The insinuation of Spurs being too dependent on their in-form striker rankled with Pochettino like little else has during his time in England.
“I know Pep very well and when he is excited, after an amazing victory against Chelsea, sometimes he struggles to keep his position and be a gentleman,” he said. “I think that many people took his words as very sad and disrespectful to the club. And for many players that are here – it’s a strange situation.”
You said it, Poch – we didn’t know anybody could make you angry.
2017 – Harry Kane (36) has scored four goals more than Cristiano Ronaldo (32) in 2017 at club level, despite playing 365 minutes less. Elite pic.twitter.com/A7nn7oCYeT
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) 17 October 2017
WENGER V THE REST: REF TAKES OVER AS ENEMY NUMBER ONE
Arsene Wenger has rarely been far from the odd managerial spat, especially when Mourinho’s around, but things have been conspicuously calm with the Arsenal boss this season.
That said, a lack of arguments with his top counterparts could well be more of a damning indictment of the Gunners’ title hopes, rather than a sign of Wenger growing a bit more mellow.
The 68-year-old has picked a few fights this season already, just not with fellow members of the ‘big six’. He reportedly pursued referee Neil Swarbrick down the tunnel after his side lost 2-1 to Watford, incensed at the award of a penalty to Richarlison that he later described as “scandalous”. He escaped any FA punishment.
He then offered a sort-of-disguised dig at fans at the club’s heated AGM last month, telling a disgruntled room of shareholders: “I dedicate 99 per cent of my life to making you happy. Looking at what happened today, that’s not easy.”
Even a former player has invoked a bit of Wenger wrath. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain raised eyebrows (and blood pressure on ArsenalFanTV) when he joined Liverpool at the end of the transfer window, saying he wanted to “get out of a comfort zone”.
Wenger responded by claiming Kieran Gibbs’ departure for West Brom was more painful, saying: “Overall it’s true that with Gibbs [it hurt] more than Chamberlain because he had been educated at Arsenal from the age of 10.”
Hardly searing vitriol, but enough to show Wenger still has something to offer if another manager fancies a feud.
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