There is nothing Jose Mourinho loves more than spoiling a party. He would be the man to complain to the police about excess noise from his neighbours on New Year’s Eve. He is that guy, he knows he’s that guy and dammit, he loves being that guy.
An unshaven, severely dressed down Mourinho produced the party-pooper of all party-poopers in Chelsea’s 2-0 victory at Anfield to stall Brendan Rodgers’ ascension to Merseyside deity. A bellowing celebration down the touchline followed for the Portuguese coach. Upsetting the odds – whether it has any impact on his own team’s season or not – is what makes Mourinho love the sport. The idea of being indestructible plays to his own ego, which is floating along nicely with Manchester United’s unspectacular 20 match unbeaten Premier League streak at the moment.
This desire to be unbeatable made Mourinho a serial winner, but it also makes him an impossible opponent. Manchester United are not only motivated by unsettling Chelsea this Sunday, there is an increasingly bitter backstory between Mourinho and his former club along with the perceived injustice of their FA Cup elimination.
As if the game needed any more spice, it is exaggerated by Manchester United’s increasing desperation for a top four spot. The Champions League qualification places are a stretch for United at the moment, with home draws having crippled their season. Playing at Old Trafford is not a fearful prospect for visitors anymore, the pressure is now on the 20-time English champions to rebuild that intimidation.
Playing in the late Sunday kick-off, Chelsea may arrive in the North-West with Tottenham only four points behind. Mauricio Pochettino’s side host Bournemouth on Saturday, a match they will likely win comfortably with Harry Kane returning to the side. Chelsea coped with the pressure of a four point gap well last weekend, but visiting Mourinho and a fired-up United is a dissimilar challenge altogether.
Chelsea have not kept a Premier League clean sheet since January 22nd. Manchester United have had terrible difficulties scoring goals all season with too many chances missed. Antonio Conte has seen his attack – particularly Eden Hazard and Pedro – carry them in the second half of the season, though Mourinho will not allow them even a yard of space to turn and run. A cagey, cluttered midfield affair is inevitable, which will often see the better defence come out on top.
Recent results have seen United’s defensive record surpass Chelsea’s, as they have kept five clean sheets in the league since Chelsea’s last. As these fixtures so often are with Mourinho, it will be tense, but flowing football will be rare.
That is how Mourinho wants it, of course. However, Conte has already out-manoeuvred his predecessor twice this season. There is nothing to say Chelsea cannot do so again, even if their defence is vulnerable. Mourinho’s abundant strength is limiting the freedom of the opponent to control the game, but his obsession with doing so may prevent United from really taking on Chelsea’s open back line.