ANTONIO CONTE and Arsene Wenger are more alike than they may care to admit.
In the past few, tempestuous days there have been cross words between the managers of Chelsea and Arsenal.
But they go head-to-head tonight in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg united in one thing at least – their mutual dislike of Jose Mourinho.
The only surprise is that it took so long for Blues boss Conte, 48, to find himself on the sharp end of the Manchester United manager’s sharp tongue.
Weary Arsenal chief Wenger has been at loggerheads with Mourinho for years having been labelled a ‘specialist in failure’ and a ‘voyeur’ among other things during the most heated moments of their rivalry.
Conte and Wenger’s minor skirmish over Blues star Eden Hazard’s debatable penalty a week ago is a little tiff compared to the vicious mud-slinging where Mourinho is concerned.
Italian Conte said: “For sure I made a comment to Arsene because he mentioned my player, otherwise I have respect from what every coach thinks. In this case I made a comment because he mentioned Hazard.
“Every coach has their own opinion and we must respect it if you don’t offend anyone. I don’t hate anyone.”
If Wenger, 68, and Conte prolong their pre- or post-match handshake and have a quiet little word in each other’s ear they will most likely be talking about the common denominator when it comes to managerial squabbling — Mourinho.
They share a common enemy even though it will be down to business this evening in the opening clash of two games to see who gets to the first big final of the season.
Arsenal’s 4-2 FA Cup humiliation at Championship Nottingham Forest on Sunday has put Wenger back under scrutiny.
But Conte said: “We’re talking about a team and manager who have won a lot in the past.
“I don’t think he has a lot of pressure on him because they lost to Nottingham Forest. In England in this trophy anything can happen.
"Last season in the fourth round we were eliminated by West Ham and now we’re in the semi-final and have a replay against Norwich in the FA Cup.
“No games are easy, whoever you play. When you start a season you try to do the best in every competition you are playing in.
“For sure now in the league it is very difficult to fight for the title because there is a team that is doing something extraordinary this season.
“I think not only for me but I think for the club, for the players, it will be very important to finish in the top four because it means in the next season you will play again in the Champions League.
“And as you know very well, the Champions League is the best tournament that a big club can play.
“But at the same time if there is the possibility to win a trophy in your season I think you must try to do this.
“You must try to do your best in each competition.
“In this case we are in the semi- finals and I think our task is to try to reach the final. And then to try to win this trophy.
“Last season we won the league, we also played in the final of the FA Cup and then in the Community Shield and for me it was great — big experiences for me. To play another final in this season? Yes, I’d like that. I’d like to play another final.
“For sure my players will try to do everything to reach this target.”
That will involve some rotation of players. Conte faces the dilemma of sticking with the stiffs that have got him thus far or to throw in all his big guns to make the second leg meaningless in two weeks’ time.
Hazard has a calf injury but is available. David Luiz is playing again after a knee problem.
Meanwhile, Conte revealed he DID recommend Virgil van Dijk to his Stamford Bridge bosses only for the £75million Dutch defender to opt for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.
He added: “This is football. This is life. For sure he was our target but as you know this is football.
“We can have a lot of targets but you must be able to reach those targets.
“The transfer market is not simple for any club.”
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