Conte back at Old Trafford and hoping to celebrate again
Antonio Conte can’t forget his “great goal” at Old Trafford for Juventus in a Champions League semifinal against Manchester United in 1999.
“I didn’t score a lot in my career and I remember very well when I scored. It was a great goal, and then I remember Ryan Giggs equalized in the last minute,” the Chelsea manager said Friday, ahead of his team facing hosts United in the Premier League on Sunday.
“I remember a great atmosphere, a great stadium and a great team. In the second leg we were winning 2-0 after 20 minutes and then we lost 3-2,” Conte said. United went on to win the Champions League that season.
This time round, a win at Old Trafford would give Conte and Chelsea a major step toward the Premier League title. The league leaders would then require 12 points from their remaining six games to be crowned champions in Conte’s first season in charge. It would also hurt United’s chances of finishing in the top four and securing a Champions League place.
Conte is wary, especially as United has gone 21 league games without defeat since its 4-0 mauling by Chelsea in October.
“We face a really strong team physically and technically. United want to find a place in the first four of the table and they have every possibility of doing that,” the Italian said.
Jose Mourinho has already had two miserable defeats inflicted on United this season at Stamford Bridge by his former team.
“You say it’s emotional but, for me, it’s a game,” Mourinho said. “It’s one more game. No different for me. Not at all.”
Chelsea is unbeaten outside the capital this season, having only lost away league games at London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham. The Blues also have the best away record in the top flight with a 36-point haul from 16 games, and have won their last three games on the road.
Chelsea has also not lost to United since a 3-2 Premier League defeat at Stamford Bridge at the end of October 2012. In 12 meetings since, Chelsea has won seven and drawn five. The last three games at Old Trafford have been draws.
Here is a closer look at Sunday’s game:
Mourinho’s first return to Stamford Bridge since he was fired at the end of 2015 saw United thrashed 4-0 in October — its heaviest league defeat since 2011. The Portuguese, who won seven trophies in his two spells in charge of Chelsea, received a largely positive reception from fans although many chose to revel in Mourinho’s misfortune as each goal went in, some chanting “you’re not special anymore.”
The two teams also met in an FA Cup quarterfinal last month, a match Chelsea won 1-0 and notable for Mourinho’s touchline spat with Conte. Mourinho was again barracked by some Chelsea fans and responded by raising three fingers to signify the league titles he won with the team.
Mourinho was not happy with Manchester United’s inability to convert goalscoring chances in its 1-1 Europa League draw against Anderlecht on Thursday.
“If I was a Manchester United defender, I would be very upset with the attacking players,” Mourinho said after his team converted only one of its 16 shots on goal.
However, Chelsea has not kept a clean sheet in the Premier League for nine matches.
Despite not finding the net in Belgium on Thursday, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 17 league goals for United this season and Conte has been impressed.
“Zlatan is in the top form of his career,” Conte said. “He’s a great player, he’s not only a finisher but he plays for the team. For me he is one of the best players in the world.”