Manchester United Jose Mourinho bemoaned old foe Antonio Conte’s tactics as his side failed to breakdown Chelsea’s defensive wall in losing the FA Cup final 1-0 on Saturday.
Eden Hazard’s 22nd minute penalty proved the difference between the teams to ensure Mourinho’s second season at Old Trafford ends without a trophy.
United enjoyed a far better Premier League season than Chelsea as Conte’s men failed to even qualify for the Champions League by finishing fifth just a year after claiming the title.
However, despite finishing second in the league to a record-breaking Manchester City side, Mourinho’s approach has been much-criticised this season for lacking the flair and invention displayed by City and Champions League finalists Liverpool.
“I’m curious to read today and tomorrow, to watch, to listen (to) your (the media’s) opinions.”
Mourinho and Conte have consistently clashed since the latter arrived in England just under two years ago.
But tactically they have plenty in common as despite Mourinho’s protestations, Chelsea’s defensive resistence inspired by Conte’s organisation is exactly what Mourinho has made his own trademark in a trophy-laden career.
Mourinho claimed on the eve of the game that he didn’t understand the media’s interpretation of “entertaining”.
In the Portuguese’s estimations, racking up 6-0 victories is not as exciting as “emotion until the end, the game open, everyone on the edge of their seats, both dug-outs nervous and tense with the result in doubt.”
The final did deliver on that promise as Chelsea ‘keeper Thibaut Courtois saved brilliantly from Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba headed wide as United tried in vein to force the game to extra time.
– Lukaku backlash –
Mourinho hasn’t been afraid to publicly criticise his players this season, most notably lambasting his squad after winning their Cup quarter-final against Brighton in March.
However, one of two exceptions that night along with Nemanja Matic was Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgian striker has scored 27 goals in all competitions in his debut season at Old Trafford.
But even he bore the brunt of Mourinho’s frustration for only declaring himself fit enough for a late cameo appearance from the bench due to an ankle injury.
“When a player tells you he is not ready to play, not ready to start, then the question is how many minutes you think you can? How can you convince a player?,” he added.
“Chelsea are not stupid. They know our team without Lukaku does not have a presence, so putting eight or nine players in front of the box they knew they would be dominant in that direct football.
“We tried everything by other ways but they had a huge block of compacted players.”
The damage at the other end was done early on when Chelsea capitalised on a fast start, and a fine individual display by Hazard.
The diminutive Belgian excelled in the space between United’s defence and midfield despite Mourinho’s best efforts to man mark him with Ander Herrera.
Hazard pounced on indecision by Phil Jones to burst clear on goal and was then brought down by the England international as he prepared to shoot before converting the spot-kick himself.
“They only play long ball,” insisted Mourinho. “When you play against a team so predictable, it is quite easy to adapt to it. But of course Hazard is a very good player and of course he created a penalty.”