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Sunday 27 May 2018

Shared woes at Chelsea all Conte and Jose have in common

Under-pressure Chelsea boss Antonio Conte
Under-pressure Chelsea boss Antonio Conte
Manchester United’s signing of Nemanja Matic has been a huge blow for under-pressure Chelsea boss Antonio Conte

If Antonio Conte gets to sit down with a glass of wine with his opposite number in Jose Mourinho's former office at Stamford Bridge after Sunday's big showdown, I'm sure they could swap some interesting stories.

There is so much baggage attached to this game and Roman Abramovich is central to all of it.

I'm sure Mourinho would empathise with Conte's current circumstances and understand intimately what life at Chelsea is like when the owner reaches into the core group of staff and players and interferes.

Mourinho has looked like a tortured man since has controversial exit but I'm not sure Conte or anyone else can find any reason to feel sorry for him.

Apart from a shared belief in the value of good defending, I doubt they have much in common off the field and the evidence for that is readily available in a comparison between Mourinho's behaviour when he realised that he had no control and Conte's much more level-headed response to Abramovich's meddling.

Consequences

Feeling betrayed by his boss, Mourinho threw a monumental strop, behaved like an idiot and stepped over the line separating football from the real world where actions have serious consequences.

I have nothing but admiration for the way Conte has coped so far with an owner who does stupid thing on a regular basis.

It is never less than amazing to me that a man who would never have left Siberia if he made the kind of decisions in business which he often applies to football.

There hasnever been a better illustration of this than the sale of Nemanja Matic to Manchester United, an event which someone at Chelsea believed was a good idea.

Matic is even more important to Mourinho than he was to Conte last season and the combined impact of removing him from the Chelsea squad and handing him to title rivals brings him to this game as the focus of everyone's attention.

Football has an uncanny habit of throwing up games where many different threads come together and this is a classic of that kind.

Apart from anything else, both Conte and Mourinho are looking at the retreating back of Pep Guardiola and the Manchester City bandwagon and realise that the title race could be over by Christmas unless the chasers get their act together.

On the pitch, there are obvious similarities in approach. Both men view defence as the foundation for everything else and that's why I think Guardiola will be very happy indeed on Sunday night.

Nobody has really noticed Arsene Wenger getting Arsenal under some kind of control but despite some reasonable results, I don't think anyone can resist City in the form they've been in lately.

Long winning runs were such a feature of title races in Alex Ferguson's time but the last two or three seasons have been notable for big teams coming unstuck against smaller clubs.

City look to me like a team on one of those runs and they already have five points to spare at the top.

Stamford Bridge has a draw written all over it and that would suit Guardiola nicely if his lads do their job against the Gunners.

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