After eight months of hard work, goals, and drama — football! — there isn’t really anything new left to say by any manager. Those at the top are fighting for the title or the top four, those at the bottom are fighting to stay alive, and those in the middle are fighting to stay awake and uninjured.
For Conte specifically, the mantra has evolved from making it a good season by exorcising last year’s demons to making it a great season by paying great attention and not frittering away our hard-fought lead at the top of the table. After steady expansion over the winter months, that lead has shrunk from ten to seven and temporarily to four since spring has sprung, and by the time this match rolls around on Sunday, we should once again expect Spurs to have closed the gap to that smallest amount.
With that in mind, another win and another three points could be crucial indeed.
“It’s another game for us. The most important thing is the three points. 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.”
“We are preparing the game in the tactical aspect and trying to find the best solution defensively and offensively because it will be very tough.”
Stopping United starts at the very top with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who missed the last meeting between the teams in the FA Cup. He did play in the famous 4-0 at Stamford Bridge, but was well marshaled after a bit of early trouble from Azpilicueta that resulted in one free header for the big man. The defence will have to be especially alert once again.
“Zlatan is in the top form of his career. 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.”
“We must have good defensive organisation and pay attention because when he attacks the box he is very dangerous. When he receives the ball he is dangerous. My players must pay great attention with great concentration to stop him and also stop the whole team, not only one player.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Meanwhile, Conte’s opposite number has once again rolled out his defensive Chelsea narrative — despite United actually having the better defensive record these days thanks the Blues inability to keep a clean sheet in nine straight Premier League games — but has also played down the emotional aspect of Sunday’s match while paying tribute to Chelsea’s collective strength.
"You say it’s emotional but, for me, it’s a game. It’s one more game. No different for me. Not at all.”
"[To compare the two teams] first of all, some guys are fresh, some guys are tired and that's very important. But they are top for some reasons — it's not just because they are fresh. It is also because they have individual quality. It’s because they have collective quality. They have a certain style of play. They stick to it. They do it very well. So they are a very strong team.”
-Jose Mourinho; source: Manchester United FC
“Not every team defends with 11 players and they defend with 11 players. Not every team is so objective in their counter-attacks. They are very objective in the counter-attack and they have individual players out of the context of the game that can also resolve the problems, so they are a very strong team.”
-Jose Mourinho; source: Evening Standard
I have no idea what “objective” counter-attacks are, but I suspect we could be better at them. While Chelsea have scored a couple tremendous counter-attacking goals as of late, including Hazard against Bournemouth last weekend, we remain rather wasteful at them.
“This game will be very tough for both teams, the result is very important for us and them [...] if you are able to take three points it is a great step to try to win [the league].”
“Don’t forget if you lose, win or draw and there are six games you have to play. It is an important game, a massive game.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Football.London