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Sunday 22 July 2018

Bitter rivals seal lips for showdown

Mourinho and Conte cease jibes ahead of Old Trafford encounter

Mourinho and Conte. Photo: Getty Images
Mourinho and Conte. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho refrained from fuelling the war of words with Antonio Conte ahead of former club Chelsea's highly-anticipated visit.

Having led the Blues to three Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a trio of League Cups across two stints in the Stamford Bridge dugout, the Portuguese is now focused on steering the Red Devils to glory.

Tomorrow will be the fifth time Mourinho has led United into battle with Chelsea and the first since an intense public exchange with counterpart Conte.

"I don't want to speak about it," Mourinho said when asked about the tension with the Italian.

"I told you before I'm not going to speak about it. Not at all."

MAN-MARKED: Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho will rue the loss of Ander Herrera who marked Chelsea’s Eden Hazard out of the game when the sides met last April. Photo: Getty Images
MAN-MARKED: Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho will rue the loss of Ander Herrera who marked Chelsea’s Eden Hazard out of the game when the sides met last April. Photo: Getty Images

Conte also refused to speak about his bitter feud with Mourinho.

Clown

Blues boss Conte has clashed numerous times with the United manager since arriving at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2016.

Last month he called the Portuguese coach a little man and also suggested he had amnesia.

Mourinho, meanwhile, inferred Conte behaved like a clown on the touchline, as well as alluding to his suspension for failing to report match-fixing in Italy. Conte was later cleared of wrongdoing in court.

Conte would not be drawn on questions about his relationship with former Blues boss Mourinho.

"In the past, both of us said things. For me, it's OK," said Conte.

"I'm not interested to speak about this topic."

Asked if he intended to shake Mourinho's hand this weekend, Conte replied: "I'm not interested in this. I'm not interested in this."

Tomorrow's match could have a significant bearing on the race for Champions League football.

Champions Chelsea and opponents United have each failed to challenge runaway leaders Manchester City for the title this season.

Along with Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal, both clubs are battling for a top-four finish.

Second-placed United are currently three points and two places above the Blues and Conte acknowledges that there is fierce competition to qualify for Europe. "We have to look at ourselves and understand that, from now until the end, every game is very important," the Italian said.

"Three points are very important for us, but also for United.

"The run for a place in the Champions League is open, so we must pay great attention. In this run there are many great teams, and someone will have to stay out of the next Champions League."

Chelsea head to the north-west on the back of a morale-boosting European display against LaLiga leaders Barcelona in midweek.

Conte believes his players' performances in the 1-1 draw showed their true potential following recent disappointing league losses to Bournemouth and Watford.

And he admits they will need to maintain that type of form to be successful against Mourinho's men.

"United are always dangerous. Always dangerous, because their squad is very strong," he added.

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