5 Ways Antonio Conte Has Bettered Jose Mourinho at Chelsea
Jose Mourinho has tried his best to ramp up a war of words with Chelsea boss Antonio Conte.
The ex-Blues manager has trivialised Conte's style of play by suggesting Chelsea are a defensive team that will win the title with negative tactics.
"Chelsea are very good defensive team," Mourinho told BBC Sport (h/t Goal).
Bleacher Report recently compared Mourinho's Chelsea career with Conte's to see whether the Manchester United boss has a point. Based on stats for goals scored, attacking play and the systems both managers have deployed at Stamford Bridge, we found ourselves leaning in Conte's favour on that side of the debate.
Continuing the comparison, there's no secret that things are looking up at Chelsea without Mourinho on the scene. Not only are they running away with the Premier League, but the mood has been lifted in west London this year. It seems an all-around brighter place to be these days.
So how has the Italian done it? Join as we look at some of the ways Conte has bettered Mourinho at Chelsea.
Conte's Made Chelsea Almost Likable
Chelsea have never had it so good. No, we're not talking about what we're seeing on the pitch but away from it. Dare we say it, but Chelsea are in danger of becoming likable.
Conte's played a big part in the PR turnaround. Gone are the accusations of conspiracies and finger-pointing at referees, with the Italian preferring to speak honestly about his team and his players.
Whereas some managers—notably Mourinho—have fed the media beast in years gone by, Conte doesn't engage in such antics. He avoids it, refusing to talk politics in press rooms in order to give sensational headlines.
It's allowed for calmer waters in west London. We're back to talking about the things that matter, notably the football. And when Chelsea have been breaking records on their way to becoming runaway leaders of the Premier League, it's earned them begrudging admirers.
With their history as one of modern English football's first nouveau-riche clubs, there's always going to be a stigma that surrounds them with neutrals and opposition fans. But as likable as Conte is, he's creating a somewhat different impression of what Chelsea are about, and it isn't as nasty as it once was.
Youth Is Getting a Chance
It's still the early days of Conte's reign at Stamford Bridge, so quite how far he will go with blooding Chelsea's youngsters remains to be seen.
What we can't question, though, is how he has shown a desire to do just that.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ola Aina and Nathaniel Chalobah have all benefited from first-team opportunities this season. The latter has especially been given a platform to show his wares after years of watching on from the sidelines while away on multiple loan moves.
To be fair to Mourinho, he gave a number of Chelsea's young players their debuts with the club. The criticism and frustration was that these would only ever come late on in a campaign when the season was all but over. There was nothing ever riding on those games, and being so late, the players didn't have a chance to build up momentum.
Conte is doing it when things matter. As early as October, we saw Loftus-Cheek, Aina and Chalobah appearing together against Leicester City in the Premier League. It hasn't stopped there, either.
That trio has played more than a combined 800 minutes already this season. It's not exactly prolific, but it's a sign of the gradual development that we can expect.
When we compare that fact to Mourinho's first seasons in charge at Chelsea in 2004/05 and his return in 2013/14, young players weren't used nearly as much.
In 2004/05, five youngsters—Lenny Pidgeley, Steven Watt, Anthony Grant, Nuno Morais and Filipe Oliveira—featured for a combined 101 minutes over the course of the season.
In 2013/14, four players—Tomas Kalas, Nathan Ake, Lewis Baker and John Swift—played a combined 196 minutes for Chelsea.
Where Conte is now, with 13 games to go before the league season is out, is a marked improvement.
"He treats us like any of the other players in the team," Chalobah told The Independent in January. "We do feel part of the first-team; we don’t feel like the young ones anymore.”
The manager seems to have an appetite for giving talent a chance, and that has been a major boost to the Chelsea academy.
Loans Actually Have a Purpose
Developing on the idea that youth is being given a chance under Conte, the recalling of Nathan Ake from a season-long loan with Bournemouth is equally encouraging.
Under the Italian, it seems Chelsea's vast loan army has a purpose beyond filling up numbers on a spreadsheet.
Ake's recall is an example of the desire Chelsea have to gradually populate their squad with homegrown talent. The Dutchman had been at the club since before Mourinho's return in 2013, making his debut under Rafa Benitez, but he was never given a fair chance under the Portuguese.
The defender was sent out on loan instead and was given few opportunities. By recalling him, Conte's showing Ake he has a future at Stamford Bridge; he's showing that good performances elsewhere are repaid with opportunities under his regime.
Multiply that by the 36 players Chelsea have on loan across Europe, and the possibilities seem tantalising.
Drama? What Drama?
When Diego Costa was reportedly dropped in January because of an apparent desire to leave Chelsea for the riches of the Chinese Super League, the story dragged on in the media.
Apparently, Conte and Costa had fallen out, which resulted in the striker missing Chelsea's 3-0 win away to Leicester City.
With little word from Chelsea on the subject, it threatened to become the transfer saga of 2017. Will he or won't he? The expectation was that the story was going to run until the summer, but then Conte killed it, scoffing at the notion of Costa leaving the Blues under his watch.
"Diego Costa? I was clear with him," Conte told Sky Sport Italia when discussing what happened between the pair (h/t Sport.co.uk). "I raised my voice and the player understood. Now everything is perfect."
There was nothing else to add. The manager maintained his stance of dealing with his players within the confines of the dressing room, refusing to elaborate on what he deemed a private matter for the club to deal with.
In the past, Mourinho didn't concern himself with such a coy approach. He deliberately acted with authority in public, using the media to drive home his agenda. That creates drama. It creates division. And it's not something Conte entertains.
Chelsea are all the better for it. They're worried about the league table and not newspaper headlines.
Goal Celebrations Feel Like an Event
European football was sold on Mourinho's infamous goal celebration in March 2004, when he ran down the touchline at Old Trafford to celebrate a Porto equaliser that knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League.
There were a few repeats of those antics during his first spell in charge of Chelsea, but as he has aged and lost his sense of charm, Mourinho the cynic has set in. Goal celebrations have become a chore, and it's damaged his appeal.
There's little risk of Conte ever dropping his standards in that regard on the evidence of his early Chelsea reign. The Italian's goal celebrations have become infectious. Whether it be against League 1 Peterborough United in the FA Cup or Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, every goal is followed by Conte going, well, wild with joy.
It's an incredible sight. It shows a manager who lives every minute with his players, and the fans love him for it. It humanises him, making Conte feel as though he is one of them.
That was a large part of Mourinho's appeal when he arrived at Chelsea. He made that connection with the terraces, but come the end of his second spell in charge, it had gone bitter, with him criticising the Stamford Bridge atmosphere instead.
By his actions alone, Conte is showing Chelsea fans why they should be passionate.