Antonio Conte’s feud with Jose Mourinho will take centre stage when Chelsea face Manchester United, but it’s the tactical battle that the Italian needs to win, writes GBP Sports.
There is no love lost between Chelsea’s current manager and their most successful one.
The saga began when Mourinho took exception to Conte’s antics near the end of Chelsea’s 4-0 home victory over Manchester United last season and barbs have been exchanged ever since.
There is a danger any animosity on the sidelines at Old Trafford this Sunday afternoon will distract from what is happening on the pitch.
Truth is both men need a positive result for their top-four ambitions and all eyes will be on Conte’s team selection in particular.
After the 3-4-3 formation, with Eden Hazard used as a ‘false nine’, worked to such a good effect in the 1-1 draw against Barcelona, the 48-year-old will surely be tempted to use it again.
It would certainly be harsh on Willian and Pedro to drop them after their impressive performances against the La Liga leaders. However, the element of surprise has gone and Hazard admitted after Tuesday’s game that playing up front is not his best position.
Recalling strikers Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud is surely in Conte’s mind too as he looks for the win that would bring Chelsea level with Manchester United in the table on 56 points.
With a trip to runaway leaders Manchester City to come the following week, former Chelsea defender Graeme Le Saux believes they need to go on the offensive.
He told Standard Sport: “Chelsea need to play against United like they have done in recent years — that is aggressive, strong and with belief in their system. One of Antonio’s great successes is tactically he is the first coach to win the Premier League with a back three.
“But as a manager you have to constantly reinvent your strategy, changing personnel and this is another opportunity to prove himself against one of the biggest teams in the world.”
Conte’s long-term future at Chelsea is not the only one up for debate at the moment, with more speculation this week around the possibility of Hazard and Thibaut Courtois moving to Real Madrid in the summer. Both will be key during the run-in to Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League next season via a top-four finish.
Conversely, Le Saux believes maintaining their place in Europe’s premier club competition will play a major part in convincing the duo to stay.
He said: “Being in the Champions League not only helps attract players, it will help Chelsea keep the ones they have like Hazard and Courtois.
“As a player you ultimately look at the culture of the club, where you fit in and what the club’s ambitions are. Where they’re going. Players are ambitious — Chelsea know that. It’s a relationship and delivering that success is something you have to try to do together.”
Neither player has given a great indication of late that they will extend their contracts. Both have expressed their happiness at Chelsea, but Hazard has used the non-committal phrase of “we’ll see” and Courtois has said Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is welcome to speak to his agent.
“As a club, you have to be grown up about that,” Le Saux insisted. “If Real Madrid had come in for me when I was at Chelsea or Blackburn I would have thought: ‘how flattered am I? — what an experience that will be’.
“But at the same time, they won’t be the star players at Real Madrid like they are at Chelsea. If the club are saying to them ‘you’re one of the key players for us going forward’ that has to be an attractive proposition.
“There is a lot to be said for being a key part of a club’s success as they’ve been over the last few years — that is really attractive.”
A win over Mourinho will be the most pleasant sight for Conte though come Sunday afternoon.