Sunday’s 16:30 match sees Jose Mourinho head to the ground he was once idolised, looking for a first win in three attempts at the helm of new side Manchester United.
Conte’s men put four past the Reds in the same fixture around the same time last year and there was further disappointment for the Portuguese manager in the FA Cup Quarter-Final in March.
Since then, United have strengthened in all areas. Their defence boasts eight clean sheets in ten games, with Mourinho’s controversial ‘park the bus’ tactics proving difficult for teams to break down.
This compares with a Chelsea defence coming off the back of a midweek 3-0 drubbing away at Roma, the nadir of an opening three months which has seen the champions concede twenty goals in the league and cups.
With the manager continually changing his back five, the defence has lacked the consistency of last season. Neither have they been helped by the loss of Nemanja Matic to Manchester and United and the injury to N’golo Kante, without both of whom the team look vulnerable on the counter attack.
It’s a game which isn’t short on sub-plots. The knives have been out in both managers’ press conferences, with Conte outspokenly criticising Mourinho’s snide references to the Italian’s injury complaints. If it’s anything like last year’s fixture, the fourth official might have his work cut out in disciplining the pair.
There’s also the revival of the Lukaku versus Morata debate. The Manchester club may have won the battle for the Belgian’s signature, but second prize Morata has shown his class and clinical finishing with six goals already in the league, just one behind Lukaku.
The goals have dried up however in recent weeks, yet with points to prove, they’ll both be eager to get back on the scoresheet this weekend.
The match has a lot riding on it for both managers. Conte needs a performance replicative of his sides’ season-transforming 3-0 victory over Arsenal last September as he bids to turn Chelsea’s fortunes around.
With local rivals Manchester City setting the bar so high already, Mourinho knows there’s more than just personal pride at stake on Sunday. No doubt if United do win however, he won’t shy away from letting his former devotees know what it means to him.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-2 Manchester United