Mourinho seeks redemption on return to former club Chelsea
By STEVE DOUGLAS
Nov. 03, 2017
Games against Chelsea will always be special for Jose Mourinho, for so long the darling of Stamford Bridge.
The latest trip to his former club on Sunday might just carry even more significance.
There are other factors in play for the Manchester United manager aside from his team's need for three points to keep pace with rampant leader Manchester City in the Premier League.
There's the desire for redemption after United's humiliating 4-0 loss at Chelsea around this time last year. There's the gradual souring of his relationship with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte.
Also, what better way to silence growing criticism of him and his team's style of play than for an increasingly irritable Mourinho to finally lead United to an away win against a big rival?
"From the emotional point of view, it's just one more game," Mourinho has said in the build-up.
Few will take those comments seriously.
Going into a match that has proved to be one of the most contentious and incident-filled in English soccer in recent years, the focus should really be on Chelsea and Conte.
The 3-0 loss to Roma in the Champions League on Tuesday was verging on the embarrassing because of the comical nature of Chelsea's defending. And with the team having already lost three times in 10 games of its Premier League title defense, questions are being asked about Chelsea's squad depth and ability to challenge on both domestic and European fronts this season.
"In this season, we are struggling," Conte said Friday. "We are struggling a lot. We are facing a lot of important problems."
Invariably, though, Mourinho manages to grab the spotlight on occasions like this. Even in last season's game, the United coach made himself the focus of the post-match analysis when, while shaking hands with Conte after the final whistle, he rebuked his counterpart for his hysterical celebrations on the touchline.
"You don't celebrate like that at 4-0," Italian TV reported Mourinho as saying. "You can do it at 1-0, otherwise it's humiliating for us."
Since then, Mourinho described Chelsea as a defensive team as it marched to the league title, and appeared to aim a dig at Conte in particular this season when he criticized other managers for "crying" when their players were injured.
It must hurt Mourinho that his biggest loss as United manager came at the hands of Chelsea and at a stadium where was once treated like a king during two trophy-laden spells as manager (2004-07 and 2013-15). It is the only time Mourinho's United has been beaten by more than two goals in his 18-month reign.
Including that 4-0 loss in October 2016, United has played six away league games against England's so-called "Big Six" under Mourinho and failed to win any of them, only scoring one goal in the process. Critics say a team as expensively assembled as United's should be doing more and playing more attractively.
"I know it's a different way of analyzing things for this reason or that reason," Mourinho said. "Similar performances for some clubs are magic, are examples of brilliant tactics and amazing attitude of the players, and for other teams the same kind of performance becomes conservative, negative, so many adjectives."
Mourinho continues to defend his style and tactics in the big games, saying his team deserved credit for beating Tottenham 1-0 last weekend in a period when Tottenham has beaten Liverpool 4-1 and Real Madrid 3-1. After the win against Tottenham, Mourinho gave a "shush" gesture to the TV cameras — a perceived retort to his critics.
In past years, picking up a point at Stamford Bridge would be viewed as creditable but Man City's fast start to this season is making people re-evaluate what a good result is.
Fourth-place Chelsea starts the game nine points behind City, and second-place United is five points off the unbeaten and free-scoring leaders. City hosts Arsenal hours before the Chelsea-United match starts.
"There is a big problem for all the teams fighting for the title, and this is Manchester City," Conte said. "If they continue in this way, it will be very difficult to fight for the title."
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80