Antonio Conte slammed Manchester United’s cynical attempts to intimidate Chelsea in his side’s bitter FA Cup quarter-final win, but Jose Mourinho hit back at his rival by insisting he remains the Blues’ best ever manager.
Chelsea boss Conte was furious with United’s aggressive approach after Ander Herrera was sent off for two fouls on Eden Hazard in Monday’s 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge.
Marcos Rojo escaped a red card for a spiteful stamp on Hazard late in the second half at Stamford Bridge, but the United defender is likely to face a ban if the Football Association retrospectively look at the offence.
Conte was so wound up by the constant fouling he became embroiled in a touchline row with United boss Mourinho that ended with the rivals being separated by the fourth official.
Asked what he made of United’s tactics, Conte said: “My players want to play football, but for 25 minutes it was impossible.
“I think only that Eden got a lot of kicks. I don’t think I’m crazy.
“He started the match receiving kicks and he finished it receiving kicks.
“This is the truth and I don’t think one person can say this didn’t happen. It’s not football for me.
“It could be United’s tactic. Sometimes when you play against players with great talent you try to intimidate them.
“The referee must try to protect these type of players because they can go out with a bad injury.”
It was a chastening return to west London for former Chelsea boss Mourinho, who endured his old club’s fans calling him “Judas” and chanting “you’re not special anymore”.
Mourinho responded to the jibes by holding up three fingers to the crowd to remind them how many Premier League titles he won in his two spells with Chelsea.
And, determined to have the last word, Mourinho, sacked by the Blues last season, took the opportunity to remind Conte and Chelsea’s supporters that they have a long way to go to match his achievements at the Bridge.
“They can call me what they want. I’m a professional,” he said.
“I feel responsibilities on Chelsea’s bad Premier League last season, but when I left we were in the Champions League, winning the Champions League group.
“Now they don’t play in Europe. It’s not my fault.
“Until the moment they have a manager that wins four Premier Leagues, I am number one.
“If a manager wins four I become number two. Until then, Judas is number one.”
– ‘Just a circus’ –
Although Conte and Mourinho didn’t shake hands at full-time, the Italian insisted he had done nothing wrong in their touchline clash.
“It was hard work for the fourth official but I controlled my emotion very well today,” Conte said.
“It’s normal for the manager to push his players. What happens outside the pitch is just a circus.”
Conte saluted Hazard for refusing to be intimidated by United’s bullying as N’Golo Kante’s superb second-half winner gave the Premier League leaders a Wembley semi-final showdown with London rivals Tottenham next month.
“For sure, he showed strong character. After the first 25 minutes, every player would have a fear of being kicked. It’s very dangerous to receive a kick from the back,” he said.
Inevitably, Mourinho refused to accept blame for his team’s approach and turned the focus on referee Michael Oliver’s decision to send off Herrera for what was one of the less vicious tackles on Hazard.
“Herrera’s second yellow card, compare that with (Marcus) Rashford going to attack the ball in a counter-attacking situation. He was fouled and the referee doesn’t give a booking,” Mourinho said.
“We all saw the game. We can all agree there was one match until Herrera saw the red card and another after that.
“I thought we were going to win because everything was under control, then with 10 men it was very difficult for us.”