LONDON — Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 in a fiery clash on Monday at Stamford Bridge to reach the FA Cup semifinals for the first time since 2013.
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N'Golo Kante‘s second half strike was enough to see Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea past a stubborn United outfit who were tough to break down despite Ander Herrera being sent off for two yellow cards after just 35 minutes.
With Conte and Jose Mourinho clashing on the sidelines — plus Chelsea’s fans giving Mourinho plenty of less than friendly “banter” throughout — it was a lively encounter as United gave up their FA Cup crown and Chelsea kept their hopes of doing the double alive.
Here’s what we learned from the Bridge.
CONTE AND MOURINHO ARE NOT FRIENDS
It’s safe to say Conte and Mourinho will not have shared a glass of wine at Stamford Bridge on Monday after the game. They seemed to ignore each other at the final whistle too.
A feud is brewing and it has all the ingredients to be an explosive one. This is the perfect storm for a managerial battle for the ages.
In the first half they clashed on the sidelines with Conte charging towards Mourinho after he felt Marcos Alonso made the most of a challenge and was obviously still incensed that Herrera had been sent off moments earlier. The duo were separated by the fourth official and referee Michael Oliver had to intervene to calm things down.
These actions were left over from the words they had at the end of Chelsea’s 4-0 win in October, where Mourinho felt they need to say something to Conte after he was whipping up the crowd in the latter stages of that match with United down and out and Chelsea cruising. They were then fueled further by Mourinho insinuating that Chelsea were a counterattacking team in the build up to this match. Conte didn’t like that. He and Mourinho don’t like each other, even if after the game word got out they shook hands in the tunnel area.
[ MORE: Conte is becoming what Mourinho was ]
Mourinho didn’t have the playing career Conte had (he was a key member of several stunning Juventus teams, winning five Serie A titles, an Italian Cup and a UEFA Champions League to his name) and now Conte is challenging Mourinho’s dominance of the managerial game. Charging up and down the touchline, Conte roared his team onto a cup semifinal. Mourinho spent most of his time complaining to the officials.
Conte has taken over largely the same squad Mourinho had for the first half of last season which failed him so badly. He was fired in December 2015 and Conte eventually arrived in the summer to transform Chelsea’s fortunes as they lead the PL by 10 points.
Mourinho was a god like figure at Chelsea for so long but now he’s not. The fans reminded him throughout the game. Chants of “you’re not special anymore!” and “Judas!” came his way. He responded by holding up three fingers to show how many PL titles he led Chelsea to.
Conte now has that hero status as he punches the air and his name is sung by the entire stadium. He is well on the way to delivering his first Premier League title at Chelsea this season and could now add the FA Cup to his collection after ousting Mourinho in yet another embarrassing occasion for the man who used to run the show at Stamford Bridge. Not anymore.
CHELSEA MORE THAN COUNTERATTACK
Before the game, that talk about Chelsea being a counterattacking team seemed to hurt Conte.
In fact, I asked him about Eden Hazard — who was sublime once again with a phenomenal turn on Chris Smalling in the first half which then led to a run and shot which David De Gea saved superbly — last Monday following the win against West Ham and about how deadly the Belgian has been on the counter this season. He made a point of stating how important Hazard has been in-between the lines and his overall play.
Conte said “I never, ever, ever train for the counterattack. Never prepare for the counterattack. Never.”
Kante’s goal was not on the counter and came from a sustained period of pressure. Of course it helped Chelsea had a one-man advantage for over 55 minutes in the victory against United, but they also came up against a team which set up in a 5-3-2 formation at times in the first half and settled well.
Chelsea turned the screw with Hazard getting Herrera sent off for two cynical fouls, plus Willian, Kante and Diego Costa causing countless problems. Costa missed two glorious chances in the second half with a clear header from a corner and then when Willian pulled a cross back. They weren’t at their clinical best but it didn’t cost them.
The major bright spot for United was Marcus Rashford.
Rashford, still just 19, miraculously started and looked like a
kid man on a mission as Paul Pogba struggled to impact he game. Rashford was United’s biggest threat all night long. He chased down David Luiz and Gary Cahill throughout and made life incredibly difficult for Chelsea. It looked like he was capable of running faster than his body could, almost bursting from the seams.
In the second half his big moment to equalize arrived.
A rare miscue from Luiz saw the United academy product pounce. He raced free with Cahill sent one way, then the next, before he smashed a low shot on goal which Thibaut Courtois saved superbly with his legs. In that instance, that was a snapshot of the raw pace and enthusiasm Rashford possesses.
If he can regain the clinical finishing he showed in his debut season in 2015-16 when he burst onto the scene, he has all of the other attributes to start for United whether or not Ibrahimovic is around next season.