Johannesburg - There is a lot at stake for both managers when Antonio Conte’s Chelsea face Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United in next Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium.
It appears it will be Conte’s last game in charge, despite the relatively recent league title win of 2016/17. A struggle to get into the top four places for the Champions League has largely been the story of the Italian’s campaign.
Grumbling about events behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge has suggested Conte is not happy with Chelsea’s recruitment policies. When he was hoping for Alexis Sanchez, Alex Sandro and Virgil van Dijk last January, he was given Emerson Palmieri, Olivier Giroud and Ross Barkley. Only Giroud has provided value.
In the Manchester United camp, there is still plenty to prove for Mourinho, despite the Red Devils enjoying their best season statistically since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. Winning the 147-year-old competition would see him edge ahead of Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola in the trophy count.
With a League Cup and Europa League already in the bag, an FA crown for Mourinho would make it 3-2 against Guardiola’s EPL gong as well as his own EFL Cup. His battle with Guardiola goes back to their days at Real Madrid and Barcelona, when the rivalry bordered on hatred.
Indeed, Mourinho’s ability to get results and win trophies seems to take place at the expense of aesthetics. Where City and even Chelsea generally control possession in big matches, the Portuguese is happy to surrender it.
A published list of his instructions during his days with Los Blancos outlined his philosophy against Barca. It arguably still represents his beliefs today with United:
1. The game is won by the team who commits fewer errors;
2. Football favours whoever provokes more errors in the opposition;
3. Away from home, instead of trying to be superior to the opposition, it’s better to encourage their mistakes;
4. Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake;
5. Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake;
6. Whoever has the ball has fear; and
7. Whoever does not have it is thereby stronger.
United’s possession stats in matches against the big six highlight this:
- Liverpool away (38%) 0-0
- Tottenham home (45%) a 1-0 win
- Chelsea away (46%) a 1-0 loss
- Arsenal away (25%) a 3-1 win
- City home (35%) a 2-1 loss
- Tottenham away (47%) a 2-0 loss
- Chelsea home (44%) a 2-1 win
- Liverpool home (32%) a 2-1 win
- Man City away (35%) a 3-2 win
Saturday’s clash perhaps represents Conte’s swansong, with his relationship with management in tatters.
A victory for the proud 48-year-old may be well deserved for a coach who not once let his standards drop.
The Londoners come into the contest with 16 points in the league from a possible 18 before Sunday’s game and are in good form.
It is seemingly an opportunity for Mourinho to justify his at times attritional brand of football, as long as it wins trophies and he beats Guardiola’s silverware tally. It seems to be a final in which United will cede possession and hit back on the break.
Chelsea, with nothing to lose, will push forward in numbers.