Chelsea eye repeat of Manchester United humiliation in FA Cup

By Mark Worrall Share Tweet 57 minutes ago Chelsea eye repeat of Manchester United humiliation in FA Cup

Antonio Conte plays down the idea of a rift between him and Jose Mourinho after Chelsea's win over Man United in October.

Chelsea face Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Monday night in the last and most keenly anticipated of this season's four FA Cup quarterfinal ties.

Jose Mourinho bringing any team to face the club where he won seven major trophies in two stints as manager is always going to be major box office, and given the drama that ensued the last time the former Blues boss was back at the Bridge, football fans the world over will be tuning in to see what transpires on this occasion.

When Chelsea last played Man United back in October, the London club were still adjusting to manager Antonio Conte's all-new 3-4-3 tactical set-up. Back-to-back wins against Hull City and Leicester City that followed a 3-0 drubbing at Arsenal (the catalyst for Conte's system switch) had been good for morale, but neither of those opponents offered much in the way of resistance — Mourinho's Red Devils would be the yardstick to measure if and by how much Chelsea had improved.

But the yardstick wasn't long enough. Chelsea won by a country mile, walloping United 4-0. Mourinho, respectfully acknowledged by Blues supporters who once idolised him, was clearly chastened by the pummelling his side received. The former "Special One" lost the plot at the end of the game confronting Conte to give him a mouthful in Italian about his touchline celebrations. To be fair to the Blues boss, these were no more animated than they had been prior to this match or have been thereafter.

Speaking ahead of the FA Cup tie, Conte insisted that he had no intention of curbing his enthusiasm and passion for the game — and why should he? His players and Chelsea's supporters clearly feed off the energy, intensity and desire that he generates, and when the chant of "Antonio, Antonio, Antonio" reverberates around the Bridge (as it surely will), Mourinho will be reminded of the potency of such a raucous endorsement. These were his people and this was his stadium — not once, but twice.

Irrespective of the fact that in the modern era, the FA Cup tends to fall down the list of priorities for the majority of Premier League managers who see the competition as an opportunity to rest key men and give younger squad members and fringe players a chance to show what they can do, Monday's cup tie demands a different approach from both Conte and Mourinho.

Neither man will want to lose the game. Conte has one eye on emulating countryman Carlo Ancelotti's imperious feat of winning the Double in his first season as Chelsea manager and may make a couple of tweaks to his regular Premier League starting XI. Though any changes will not compromise the Blues' chances.

Diego Costa will be expected to lead the line with Eden Hazard and Willian in support. Conte has deployed Pedro at left wing-back instead of Marcos Alonso for Chelsea's three FA Cup ties to date and the former Barcelona player has revelled in the role — scoring in every game. The fact that Pedro also found the net in the first minute of that 4-0 thrashing of United embellishes the case for selecting the Spaniard.

Antonio Conte insists that Chelsea's future plans for captain John Terry won't be addressed until the end of the season.

In midfield, given the ties to date have been against lower league opposition, Conte has so far opted to rest N'Golo Kante, only fielding him from the bench in a couple of games. This perhaps is his biggest call for the United match; Chelsea are a different proposition with Kante in their ranks, and the France international's inclusion could have a pivotal outcome on the game.

The absence through suspension of talismanic Man United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a big loss for Mourinho whose faith in the towering 35-year old Swede has to date been repaid with 26 goals. That said, Anthony Martial, prodigious Marcus Rashford and former Chelsea favourite Juan Mata are no slouches and Henrikh Mkhitaryan has the ability to engineer a goal from nothing too.

The potent and proven skill sets of this quartet may well be enough to dissuade Conte from tinkering with his favoured back three of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill. Chelsea legend John Terry would love to play in this game and while there is no doubting his craft and guile, the 36-year old veteran lacks pace these days and might be considered a risky proposition against United's nimble attack.

Whatever Conte, or indeed Mourinho, choose to do selection-wise, there will be no second chances. For the first time in the history of the FA Cup, the quarterfinals will be decided on a one-match basis. Extra-time, penalties and the curious prospect of a fourth substitute (should the game progress beyond the 90 minute phase) means that a winner will be decided on the night.

While Blues supporters would love to see United put to the sword again, Mourinho will want to avoid such a humbling scenario at all costs. A more even game looks in prospect then with the outcome likely to hinge on which manager wins the tactical battle of wits.

The fact that Conte can call on his experience as a world-class player, a factor that has clearly earned him the respect of his squad, may well give Chelsea the edge in a high-octane encounter which has all the ingredients of being an FA Cup classic.

Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco


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