Antonio Conte has criticised Manchester United for “only kicking” Chelsea in his side’s 1-0 FA Cup sixth-round win at Stamford Bridge, and said their targeting of Eden Hazard was “not football”.
The Italian’s take on the game was in stark contrast to Jose Mourinho’s, who claimed that the way United got at Chelsea’s centre-halves in the first 35 minutes meant he “had a feeling” he would win. Conte disputed this.
“My point of view is this: they’ve got to play football, and my players want to play football. For 20 or 25 minutes, it was impossible for Hazard to play football. I see only that he got a lot of kicks. But I don’t think I’m crazy and I see only him in this situation.
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“This is my reply to the question. Hazard, for 25 minutes, it was impossible for him to play football. Only kicking… he started receiving kicks, and he finished receiving kicks. No one person can say this did not happen.”
Asked whether he felt this was a concerted United tactic, Conte said: “I don’t know. But this tactic, to play by going to kick the opponent, does not exist. It’s not football for me. I don’t think this can be a tactic. This is the truth.
“Everyone saw this. I think sometimes, when you play against players with great talent, you try and intimidate these players. I think the referee must protect this type of player. Then, when they are put out with a bad injury?”
Conte praised Hazard’s resilience in the circumstances. It was his run and shot and 16 minutes that began to open the game up.
“He showed great character. Strong character. I think, after the first 25 minutes, every player think not one or two or three seconds to come shorter to receive the ball and receive a kick [?]. It’s very difficult and dangerous to receive a kick from behind.
“But he showed great character. I know this. Someone can be surprised by Hazard’s character. I’m learning to know him very well this season, and I can tell he has a strong character. Today he showed this.
“We must be pleased because, to arrive in the semi-final and to play at Wembley is, for us, a source of great satisfaction. Above all for my players, for the work we are doing this season. I think this quarter-final will be with more balance. To play against United is not easy. For me, United have one of the best squads in the league, and they showed this also tonight.”