One of the benefits — or drawbacks, depending on your perspective — of not having Jose Mourinho as your club’s manager is that you don’t have to spend every press conference and every public (or private) media appearance micro-analyzing every single word, both in and out of context. Does he really mean what he’s saying? Is there a deeper meaning? Mind games, mind games everywhere! Are we just trying to assign deeper meaning? Mind games within mind games! Maybe he’s just truly angry? Nah, he’s a Machiavellian genius; it’s all about the long-con! Maybe his English is just bad? It’s normally great, but maybe this time it wasn’t! Etc, etc, etc.
It gets pretty tiring.
Of course, the new man in charge could be playing mind games, too. Before Chelsea, Antonio Conte did have somewhat of a reputation for not always having the best of relationships with rival managers. But we’ve seen no inkling of any such behaviour, with the boss sidestepping every instance of potential conflict.
“I'm very focused on the pitch. The mind games don't bring you to win – above all if you face a team who is focused. We must talk during the game on the pitch, not before.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Telegraph
Conte does like to do quite a bit of “talking” on the pitch (well, right next to it, to be exact), and that didn’t go over too well with Mourinho during his 4-0 defeat at the Bridge back in the fall. Since then, The Special One has hardly lost a match but does not have much to show for it (yet). They remain in sixth place, though they do have a chance at the top four still and are in contention for two more Cup trophies having won the League Cup last month already.
That has led to a very busy schedule for Manchester United, which isn’t a new thing for Mourinho to complain about. He has however made a recent habit of trying to discredit Chelsea’s performances, making it a point once again to shine not exactly a positive light on what he perceives (or what he wants us to think he perceives) to be Chelsea’s defensive style — again, as espoused in the opening paragraph, whether you agree with this statement depends on just how much you read into his words, his context, and his recent history of comments.
“I'm not surprised [by the success]. I'm surprised with the way they play. I'm surprised because I thought they were demanding a different kind of football.”
"I think they are very good defensively and I think they have fantastic players to be a counter-attack team and to kill opponents with three or four players."
-José Mourinho; source: PA via ESPN
There’s a “they” in there that isn’t like the rest and doesn’t actually refer to Chelsea but rather to Abramovich? Maybe? It’s another back-handed compliment and what’s become a series of back-handed compliments. Mourinho had previously framed his comments from a media coverage perspective; this one seems far more squarely aimed right at the heart of the Chelsea Board and owner.
Meanwhile, there’s a game to be played as well, Monday night at Stamford Bridge. Can we get to that yet?