The Italian is refusing to bite on The Special One’s comments calling his team “defensive”
ANTONIO CONTE’S message to Jose Mourinho was almost sadistic.
Perched at the top, the Chelsea boss looked down on Mourinho’s fifth-placed Manchester United ahead of tomorrow’s Old Trafford clash with a smirk and a twinkle in those blue eyes.
And his response to the once Special One’s sniping about Chelsea being a counter-attacking team made it clear nothing will detract his men from their quest to win the Premier League.
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Mourinho had taunted: “They have a certain style of play, they stick to it, they do it very well.
“Not every team defends with 11 players — and they defend with 11 players.”
But Conte was clear that all his talking is done on the pitch.
He said: “Many coaches try to manipulate ideas and try to put your thoughts in the way they want.
“But it’s not important for me. It’s important to continue to work and have our idea of football.”
Conte’s instant success at Chelsea is not just embarrassing for Mourinho. It is humiliating.
Just 16 months ago, the Portuguese was sacked with Chelsea in 16th spot — a point above the drop zone — having lost nine of their first 16 league matches last season.
They eventually finished tenth without Mourinho.
Enter Conte last summer, who transformed virtually the same Chelsea — plus N’Golo Kante — back into a title-winning machine.
Meanwhile, the former Chelsea chief failed to mount a title challenge at United, despite an astronomical £150million summer outlay.
Plus, Conte has heaped more personal misery on Mourinho having led his Blues to two victories over United this term in the league and FA Cup.
Is it any wonder Mourinho had a go at Conte for celebrating wildly during his 4-0 win over United at Stamford Bridge earlier this season?
Or that Mourinho responded to Chelsea fans’ “Judas” chants during the Cup game at the Bridge, saying “Judas is No 1 until someone wins four titles here”?
Conte remained dismissive and said: “My reaction about this statement? Nothing.
“Because he won a lot with this team. And this club has always shown him great respect for his past. And me, I don’t change.
“For us, the game at Old Trafford is very important and, for sure, if we are able to take three points it’s a good step for the end of the season.”
And then Conte turned the screw on United with characteristic ease.
Does he believe Mourinho when he says United will give priority to the Europa League rather than go full throttle for a top-four spot?
The Italian said: “No, I don’t think so. United have the possibility to arrive in the table in the top four.
“But I’m sure United’s players know this situation. They want to fight to arrive in this position.
“It’s not right to be concentrated only on one target if you have the possibility with two to reach the Champions League.”
Conte naturally hailed United’s £89m world-record signing Paul Pogba as the “complete footballer”.
It was Conte who turned him into a Juventus superstar, after all.
But when asked whether he expected the market to move even higher and break the £100m barrier this summer, and could Chelsea afford that sum, Conte could not resist another United put-down.
He said: “This question is better asked to United. We didn’t spend this money on him.
“I don’t want to go into this topic. I prefer to avoid it.”
Asked again, he responded: “I don’t know. It’s very difficult to reply. I’m sure that, in the future, someone can pay more than for Paul.”
Come to think of it, it is unclear whether cunning Conte misunderstood the first time.
It is all in the mind, after all, isn’t it, Mourinho?