Marouane Fellaini insists Manchester United are confident of avenging the worst moment of Jose Mourinho’s reign when they return to Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Monday.
Mourinho’s first visit to Stamford Bridge since his sacking as Chelsea boss last season ended in humiliation as his former club romped to a 4-0 victory over United in October.
United have used the memory of that painful loss to fuel a dominant period which has seen them lose just twice in all competitions since then.
They lifted the first major trophy of the Mourinho era with a League Cup final victory against Southampton last month and remain in contention for further silverware in the FA Cup and Europa League.
Chelsea have been equally powerful, opening up a 10-point lead at the top of the Premier League and advancing to the last eight of the FA Cup as boss Antonio Conte chases a double in his first season as Mourinho’s permanent replacement in west London.
Although United are 17 points behind Chelsea, United midfielder Fellaini is adamant they can turn the tables with a place in the semi-finals up for grabs.
“Obviously we lost there a few months ago, but now it is the FA Cup and we will see what happens,” Fellaini said.
“It will be tight, I think. It is the FA Cup, it is one game.
“They are top of the league, they have confidence, they have great players, but we will show our quality there and see what happens.
“Of course they are confident so let’s go there and see what we can do.”
Chelsea’s hopes of securing a club record 13th successive home win may have been boosted by the contrasting preparations the two teams have had this week.
While Conte and his players have been able to plot Mourinho’s downfall at their training base since Monday’s win at West Ham, United were forced to embark on a draining trip to Russian club Rostov on Thursday in the Europa League.
Mourinho bemoaned the poor quality of the pitch in Russia and, with his players not arriving home until the early hours of Friday morning, it would be no surprise if they showed signs of fatigue at Stamford Bridge.
Even so, Conte doesn’t anticipate an easy ride from a team with United’s strength in depth.
“Manchester United, together with (Manchester) City, has the best squad in the league,” Conte said.
“They have a lot, a number of great players, with great talent and great experience to win.
“We have a good identity, our team. But for sure it will be a really tough game for us and for them.”
Conte’s wild touchline celebrations of his team’s goals irked Mourinho in October and the United boss accused his rival of deliberately stirring up the Chelsea fans, who taunted their former idol with chants of “you’re not special anymore”.
It will be fascinating to see what sort of reception Mourinho gets from Chelsea’s supporters this time.
But despite Mourinho’s protests, Conte has no intention of toning down the touchline theatrics that have become his trademark this season.
“I’ve shown at Chelsea, not only Chelsea, every team that I managed that I live the game with great passion,” Conte said.
“Sometimes I want to share my enthusiasm, my passion with my players, with my staff, also with the fans. I think it’s normal.
“I’m very focused on the pitch. The mind games (with Mourinho) don’t bring you the win.
“For me the most important thing is to try to win, then to think for another celebration.” – Agence France-Presse