By Fred Akatiba
Chelsea will travel to Old Trafford this Sunday for a Super Sunday clash with Manchester United. Kickoff time is 3:05pm local time. This showdown, I will say in “little Toyko” promises to be intriguing, coming from incidents recorded between the coaches and the players involved, the turn of things from January transfer market and the current internal issues in the clubs.
Symbols of style or substance mean little to the United boss, so long as it accompanies success but at home in a veritable six pointer, is a classic Mourinho shut down going to work?
While the Portuguese is reportedly willing to smoke the peace pipe and shake hands with his bitter adversary Antonio Conte before the game, there is more than pride on the line not just in the race for second place, but in the top four bottleneck, with Tottenham breathing down their necks as well. Indeed, an Old Trafford stalemate, plus favourable results for Liverpool and Spurs
MOURINHO v CONTE WAR OF WORDS
Such has been the war of words between Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte it is easy to forget that a vitally important top-four battle is about to break out on the Old Trafford pitch.
From the moment Conte’s Chelsea thrashed Mourinho’s Manchester United 4-0 to kickstart their 2016-17 Premier League title charge, a simmering tension has existed between the pair, who both won the Premier League in their first season in England with the London side.
This season the discord erupted into open dislike with insults flying backwards and forwards.
In October, Mourinho said Conte was the kind of manager who “they cry, they cry, they cry when a player is injured”, while Conte suggested the Portuguese was far too interested in what was going on at the club where he was once worshipped after winning seven trophies in two spells.
Mourinho’s comments in January that not “behaving like a clown on the touchline” did not betray a lack of passion appeared to be directed Conte’s way. Conte took the bait and hit back in no uncertain terms, accusing Mourinho of suffering from amnesia although his original remark, later clarified, spoke of “senile dementia”.
Mourinho stoked the fires by dragging up a 2011 match-fixing saga that Conte was implicated in.
Conte, who always denied any wrongdoing in that affair, was furious and described Mourinho as “a little man with a very low profile” as the bad blood began to boil.
WILL MOURINHO STOP HAZARD….AGAIN?
Jose Mourinho went to extreme measures to nullify Eden Hazard in Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Chelsea at Old Trafford last season. Will he stop him again in the same fixture on Super Sunday?
Hazard was desperate to prove a point to the man who questioned his heart during their bitter fall-out in the previous season at Chelsea, and there was no doubt he succeeded. But when he travelled to Old Trafford for the third meeting between the two sides in the penultimate month of the campaign, Mourinho finally enjoyed the upper hand.
MOURINHO – PAUL POGBA FALLOUT
Chelsea have started to turn things around after their poor start to 2018, and showed they can still buy into Conte’s methods via their backs-to-the-wall draw with Barcelona at Stamford Bridge.
Given the Italian’s reactive style, and with the return against Barcelona and a date with Manchester City imminent, it is unlikely Chelsea will come out and set the agenda at Old Trafford.
That doesn’t mean they can’t provide a coherent threat, though. Choosing Cesc Fabregas as one of the central pairing, like against Barca, increases the Blues’ potency on the counter-attack and Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso can peg back United getting forward. Moses’ match-up with Ashley Young looms as an intriguing one.
Will Paul Pogba be a part of Mourinho’s game plan? Leaving him on the bench for two consecutive games would send the UK’s tabloids into overdrive about the Frenchman’s future with Mourinho, who seems to be in the midst of the latest power push that has plagued his polarising career. His compatriot N’Gola Kante symbolically outpointed him at times last season; if Pogba is re-instated, possibly alongside Nemanja Matic and 21-year-old Scott McTominay, he’ll need to use this stage to prove Mourinho wrong.That, in turn, could help Mourinho prove his own critics wrong.
LUKAKU AND MORATA’S PROBLEM
Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata seems to have joined their new clubs only for big money in the summer, Were expectations too high? Ahead of Sunday’s clash, we take a look…
That the pair appeared set to make the move to each other’s clubs at one stage in that transfer window only adds to the intrigue. After all of the hype, the social media buzz and the drama of the unveilings, which team actually got the better deal? The overriding feeling is that both Lukaku and Morata have underwhelmed at their new clubs. That seems more than a little unfair…
FRED AKATIBA’S PREDICTION
It’s a must-not-lose game for both teams. If United win this, they will outpace Chelsea with a six-point gap, with Palace next up for them. Chelsea, meanwhile, go to Man City next, which will be hugely difficult.
If United lose this, there could be a point between four teams in the top-four race, that’s too close for comfort for United given that, they’ve been around second place for the entire season.
FRED PREDICTS: 1-1 draw