Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea: How Jose Mourinho bettered Antonio Conte in tactical battle
Sunday’s Premier League game between Manchester United and Chelsea was billed as a clash of the Titans in the Top four race.
The fixture, which has grown into one of England’s biggest in the last decade, was extra hyped by the managerial battle between Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte.
The two coaches have not always seen eye-to-eye and were involved in some bitter exchanges earlier this season following a public fallout.
That, coupled with the fact that Sunday’s game was a six-pointer, made the fixture a must-win for both Manchester United and Chelsea.
But while the Blues kicked off on the ascendency, it was Mourinho’s side who ended up as victors, thanks to goals from Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard after Willian had opened the scoring.
Much of the build-up to the game was centred around Mourinho’s tactical flatness in recent games and, in fact, many had begun to doubt if the Portuguese still had it.
But the former Porto and Inter Milan boss rose to the occasion and bested Conte in every department, leaving the Blues in their own wake.
While Conte stuck to his preferred 3-4-3 formation throughout the first half, Mourinho varied his and switched to four different formations in the course of the game.
The Man United boss knew his side were second best for much of the opening exchanges and immediately switched to a 4-2-2-2, allowing Lukaku and Antony Martial to play up front whiles Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez provided support behind them.
Occasionally, Man United were set-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and constantly reverted to the 4-3-3 when they had won back the ball.
The introduction of Scot McTominay also neutralized the lethal Eden Hazard, with the 21-year-old diligently delivering on his man-marking duties. The Belgian was often left isolated and immediately crowed whenever he had the ball to his feet.
In all this, Conte failed to respond and left it rather too late with the introduction of Cesc Fabregas. The Italian’s decision to leave out the Spaniard meant the Blues were always going to lack that creativity in midfield, with Danny Drinkwater being more of a player to clean up the mess than one who initiates an attack.
The final straw was when Conte decided to take off Hazard, instead of adjusting his team to make the Belgian more efficient. The 27-year-old was restricted for large spells in the game, but he was almost always dangerous each time he had the ball – as demonstrated by his sublime assist for Willian’s goal.
At 1-1, the Italian was more cautious, but Mourinho saw the need to replace the tiring Martial with a more vibrant Lingard. That substitution proved to be a masterclass, with the England international netting what proved to be the winner with 15 minutes to go.
Following that goal, Mourinho again introduced Eric Baily to shore up his defence and immediately switched to a 3-5-2 to offer protection to his centre-backs.
It was a tactical tweak that rocked Conte, and the former Juventus boss could just not match Mourinho’s brilliance on the day as Man United run out 2-1 winners over the Blues.