Only once before has Jose Mourinho entered Stamford Bridge as a visitor. In 2010, his Inter Milan team Chelsea in the last 16 of the Champions League on the way to winning the competition. Now as manager of Manchester United, Mourinho heads back to the Bridge this weekend to take on his former employers. An early season meeting in the Premier League is far less glamorous than a Champions League knock-out round, but for Mourinho, beating his former team would be just as sweet.
Chelsea and Manchester United come into this weekend’s matchup in fifth and seventh place, respectively. Both sides are within shouting distance of the top four, so Sunday’s matchup carries more weight than a simple reunion. That said, Mourinho’s return is undoubtedly the top draw and more than enough motivation for both teams to go for the win.
Mourinho’s last season at Chelsea was a disaster right from the off. The self-proclaimed “Special One” found himself out of work by the mid-point of the year. Chelsea would rebound enough to finish in the top half but lost out on European competition. Mourinho’s start to this season has been better, but not without a struggle. The Portuguese manager will be looking to prove that his recent struggles are more of an aberration. Pulling out three points against his old team would be a perfect avenue for sending that message.
[link_box id=”23195″ site_id=”158″ layout=”link-box-third” alignment=”alignright”]It will be interesting to see the reaction Mourinho receives in London on Sunday. His rise through the club saw him become something of a cult figure. He won multiple Premier League titles across his two stints with the club, but his star lost plenty of luster during his final season. Now that he’s at a major rival it’s fair to expect at the very least a mixed reaction.
For Chelsea, this meeting is a chance to finally put the Mourinho Era behind them. Manager Antonio Conte needs a win to get into the top four, but he also needs to one-up his predecessor. It would be unsettling for Conte to lose at home to a close rival, even more so when that rival is coached by the man who’s job he took. Conte has tried to mold Chelsea into his image, beating Mourinho would be quite poetic.
This match might be even more important to the Chelsea players who seemed to turn on Mourinho last season. Mourinho’s sometimes harsh man-management techniques surely rubbed some in the Chelsea dressing room the long way. As Chelsea struggled last season, Mourinho wasn’t shy to publically criticize his own players. While they likely wouldn’t publically say so, this meeting is an opportunity for many Chelsea players to show their old boss he was the problem, not them.
Meetings between United and Chelsea are always going to be big games. With two sides looking to rebound after disappointing seasons last year, this one will be crucial. All eyes will be on Mourinho though. He will always be remembered as a club legend at Stamford Bridge, but on Sunday he’s the enemy. Mourinho is used to being an enemy, just not at Chelsea. It will be fascinating to see how he handles that.