United have upper hand, says Conte

Alvaro Morata scoring to seal Chelsea's 2-0 win over Southampton in their FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday. Either the Blues or their final opponents Manchester United will end the season without a trophy.
Alvaro Morata scoring to seal Chelsea's 2-0 win over Southampton in their FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday. Either the Blues or their final opponents Manchester United will end the season without a trophy.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Feud between Chelsea boss and Mourinho adds spice to high-stakes FA Cup final clash

LONDON • Antonio Conte admits Chelsea will be the underdogs when they face Manchester United and his old rival Jose Mourinho in the FA Cup final on May 19.

Conte's side, who are seeking their eighth Cup, cruised to a 2-0 win over Southampton in Sunday's semi-final to set up the heavyweight clash with United at Wembley.

But the Italian does not believe Chelsea, beaten 2-1 by Arsenal in last year's final despite then going into the match as Premier League champions, will be regarded as favourites to lift the Cup.

"This final is a game between two great teams. In my mind, I can tell you we played the final as favourites against Arsenal," he said.

"In this season, we arrive not as favourites. But then last season, we lost the final even though we were expected to win."

Given their long-running feud, there will be as much attention on the two managers on the Cup final day as there will be on the players.

Both of them have exchanged a series of bitter barbs via the media this season, with Conte labelling Mourinho a "little man" with senile dementia.

The United boss has also stoked the flames by saying he thought his rival acted like a "clown" with his touchline antics, while making reference to an Italian football match-fixing scandal that Conte was cleared of any involvement in.

Even last week, Conte took a swipe at Mourinho, insisting the Portuguese had it much easier than him in his two spells at the Blues' helm.

Conte did, however, attempt to draw a truce post-match, saying somewhat unconvincingly that he had settled his differences with Mourinho, who has admitted he will be "killed" if the Red Devils do not lift a record-equalling 13th Cup to ensure their season is not a failure.

"With Jose, we have clarified the situation. This is the most important thing. There is not a problem between us," he added.

"We are talking about two managers with strong characters, two winners. In your heart and your blood, there is the will to win.

"For sure, we want to try to win the trophy, in the same way United do. I have great respect for United and Mourinho's story."

The final offers Conte a chance to end a troubled season with silverware in what might be his last match with Chelsea.

The Blues never came close to successfully defending their league title and their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League via a top-four finish are hanging by a thread.

Numerous media reports have claimed Conte will leave in the close season after falling out with Chelsea's hierarchy over their failure to back his transfer plans.

Asked how he would rate Chelsea's inconsistent season, Conte said: "As you know well, it's not simple to play in this league.

"It is the only league to fight with six teams to win the title and a place in the Champions League. It will be more difficult year by year."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2018, with the headline 'United have upper hand, says Conte'. Print Edition | Subscribe