Antonio Conte’s often-manic antics on the line have been among the defining images of the 2016-17 season, but they also fostered some of the tensest touchline atmospheres of the season, given how many flashpoints there were between him and the Manchester United bench in Chelsea’s 1-0 FA Cup sixth-round win at Stamford Bridge in March.
Although the Italian looked fully ready for confrontation that night, he made a surprising admission as his side prepare to go to Old Trafford on Sunday: he doesn’t actually like such tension. The problem, he also effectively said, is that it is “normal” because of how intensely focused he gets on his team.
“No, no, I don't like,” Conte said. “I prefer to be more focused on my team. But sometimes it can happen. It's normal for me and other coaches to have this situation. But if you ask me if I like it or not, I don't. I'd prefer to be focused on my team and the game during the match, so I can find the right solution if my team is in difficulty.”
Conte gets so utterly involved in games that it is often as if he forgets everything else around him, and that is probably what led to incidents like Jose Mourinho rebuking him for stoking the Chelsea crowd in United’s 4-0 league defeat at Stamford Bridge in October. Despite that, Conte insisted there is no personal issue between him and the Portuguese.
“I have zero problems. It's only a sporting competition between him and me. There is a game of football. I want to try and win with my team. He wants to try and win with his team. It's normal to be a conflict during the game, but only a sporting conflict.
“It's very simple. Sporting conflict is the game. Two teams are under sporting conflict during the game. It's not a friendly game. Both teams want the three points and, for this reason, you both fight with only your possibility to try to win. It's very simple.”
Conte however disputed the idea that Mourinho would prioritise the Europa League over Sunday’s game, a match that comes sandwiched between United’s quarter-final legs with Anderlecht with the tie tightly balanced at 1-1.
“No, I don't think... I think Manchester United have the possibility to arrive in the table in the first four places. I think this. But I'm sure United's players know this situation. They want to fight to arrive in this position. It's not right to be concentrated only on one target if you have the possibility with two to reach the Champions League.”