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Chelsea's Antonio Conte, Man United's Jose Mourinho create own problems

There is certainly an irony to Chelsea facing Manchester United on Nov. 5 -- a day when bonfires will be lit and fireworks set off all over the U.K. to honour the centuries-old tradition of Guy Fawkes' Night.

For the uninitiated, this is the night when bonfires are built and lit in thanksgiving for the failure of the Gunpowder Plot -- led by Guy Fawkes -- to blow up the House of Lords and King James I on Nov. 5, 1605.

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It is a day when people are encouraged to play with fire, so what better date for Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho to meet at Stamford Bridge and fan the flames that are beginning to burn beneath their feet at Chelsea and United respectively?

No matter what the circumstances, few encounters between Chelsea and United pass off without incident, but the personalities involved on the touchline this weekend ensure that there is already a tinderbox feel to the game.

Conte and Mourinho clashed during last season's fixture at Stamford Bridge, when Mourinho publicly criticised Conte -- his successor as permanent Chelsea manager -- for conducting the crowd with his team cruising to a 4-0 win against a humiliated United.

The verbal spats have continued since, with Conte pretty much telling Mourinho to mind his own business and focus only on United last month after his predecessor's claim that too many of his rivals complained about injuries.

But while the two highly strung managers clearly do not share much goodwill for each other, it is their propensity to make trouble for themselves that threatens to be their downfall.

Both men should be approaching this game in an air of tranquillity, with Conte winning the Premier League title and guiding Chelsea to the FA Cup final in his first campaign in charge last season, while Mourinho added two major trophies -- the EFL Cup and Europa League -- to United's roll of honour, at the same time as returning the club to the Champions League.

But all of the good work and positivity of last season has virtually evaporated for both managers, and much of that is because of the character flaw they share which leaves them unable to risk the temptation to place their hand over the self-destruct button.

Both of them harbour grievances over summer transfer spending, with Conte angry at Chelsea's failure to complete a deal for Romelu Lukaku, enabling United to sign him instead, and the contradictory noises from Stamford Bridge over the decision-making behind Nemanja Matic's move to Old Trafford have done little to suggest harmony between the manager and the board.

Conte wanted, and failed to get, Virgil van Dijk and Alex Sandro, but he also left the club in a no-win situation with Diego Costa after texting the forward to tell him he had no future at the end of last season.

All of this came after the Italian's refusal to be rushed into signing a new contract -- which he eventually committed to -- with Conte happy to use Inter Milan's interest as a bargaining chip.

The problem with playing that game at Chelsea is that owner Roman Abramovich will always come out on top.

Conte may have won that battle, but it will only have eroded any credit he had with the Russian, who has rarely shown patience with any manager he perceives to be failing, especially one who has kept him waiting in the past.

Conte may now be realising the ramifications of his contract standoff. With results deteriorating on the pitch, he finds himself backed into a corner, but the fires are continuing to be lit with his team selections and outspoken comments.

His approach is similar to that of Mourinho, who discovered on two occasions that Abramovich is not to be messed with, even if you have delivered great success to Chelsea.

But Mourinho is the same wherever he works, and United are now discovering that a leopard really cannot change his spots.

Ed Woodward, United's executive vice-chairman, is probably contemplating an investment in a pair of ear plugs to drown out the persistent drone coming from Mourinho.

Behind the scenes at Old Trafford, sources have told ESPN FC that Mourinho's mood is increasingly dark, with the manager and his tight-knit group of assistants keeping to themselves, almost creating their own siege mentality within the club.

Results on the pitch have been good, certainly in comparison to every other season since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in May 2013, but Mourinho continues to rail against criticism of his style of play and has now picked a fight with the club's supporters by criticising their treatment of Lukaku, who has not scored in more than a month.

Mourinho's comments have baffled many fans and observers, with any criticism of Lukaku barely registering a murmur during games, but the Portuguese has also uttered thinly veiled digs at the board, and Woodward, by hinting at his frustration at the failure to sign a fourth player -- Inter's Ivan Perisic -- during the summer.

His recent admission that he would not end his career at United, at the same time as speaking of his desire to live in Paris, appeared no less than a flirtation with Paris Saint-Germain.

But Mourinho, not for the first time in his career, is playing a dangerous game by taking on the supporters as well as the board. Few managers win when they take on just one of those opponents, never mind both of them.

Conte, at least, still has the Chelsea fans in his pocket, but results are always the decisive factor when a manager is having a hard time.

A defeat on Sunday would appear more damaging, in the short term, for Conte, but a loss could also see Mourinho's United fall eight points behind Manchester City, so that won't help his demeanour one iota.

But both men would help themselves an awful lot if they stopped playing with fire.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_


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