Mourinho in staunch Chelsea defence after 'unfair' criticism


Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho surprisingly leapt to the defence of former club Chelsea and embattled coach Antonio Conte, calling criticism of them "unfair".

Mourinho and Conte have not seen eye-to-eye for the majority of the latter's time in England, with the pair engaging in a protracted and often unseemly war of words this season.

During their spat, Mourinho questioned Conte's integrity for becoming embroiled in a match-fixing scandal - from which the Italian was later exonerated - and the Blues boss responded by calling his rival a "little man".

But their relationship appeared to have mellowed during Chelsea's 2-1 defeat to United on February 25, with the pair shaking hands.

That game saw United make a slow start and they did so again on Monday in the dramatic 3-2 win over Crystal Palace, with comparisons made between the two contests, but Mourinho insists the only common denominator is strong opposition.

"Honestly, I know what you're writing as a consequence of yesterday," Mourinho told reporters at Selhurst Park, 24 hours after Conte's side came under fire for their defensive approach in a 1-0 defeat at runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City.

"But Chelsea is a fantastic team and, I know it looks a bit strange because you know we had problems in the past, but it's quite ridiculous that I have to say how unfair it is to speak the way people speaking about the English champions.

"They are still the English champions. Chelsea was strong against us, they started very strong against us and caused problems against us in the initial part of the game.

"And tonight [Monday] I think Roy [Hodgson, Palace manager] was strong. We were expecting [Jairo] Riedewald in defensive midfield and [Alexander] Sorloth out left, but he came with a 4-4-2, two aggressive strikers together, strong in the air then dropping back to defend.

"Roy was very good. I don't even want to blame my players and say the start was not good.

"The start was not good because they [Palace] were good and matches like this [going behind early], it's only possible if the two teams are good."