It is easy to tell when things are going well for Jose Mourinho: he starts playing psychological games with his rivals. The Portuguese provocateur and Manchester United boss has a knack of getting under the skin of his competitors like no other. And that his mind games would eventually be trained on Chelsea successor Antonio Conte was inevitable and this week saw the rivalry ratcheted up with some carefully targeted comments.

As is so often the case, Mourinho pitched his attack in a pointed and yet calculatedly disingenuous manner, which served many purposes. The silver-haired strategist suggested rival coaches should not whinge about their club's injury woes. "I never speak about injuries. Other managers, they cry, they cry, they cry when some player is injured. I don't cry."

Italian Conte, whose Chelsea side have an ever-expanding list of fitness woes, bit back: "Do you think that it was for me? I think that he has to think about his team. Stop, look at himself, not the others. I think a lot of the time Mourinho has to see what happens at Chelsea. Also last season. If it is for me, my answer is this. If this not for me my answer is not for him."

That this rivalry has taken so long to truly break out is perhaps the most surprising aspect and says something about the strife suffered by Mourinho since arriving at Old Trafford in May 2016. But the pair have been destined to butt heads since they landed in England, given the manner of Conte's arrival and the affection Mourinho has for Chelsea.

Mourinho had only just arrived in English football in 2004 when he coined his own nickname. Possibly by accident, probably on purpose. "Please don't call me arrogant, but I'm European champion and I think I'm a special one," said the coach who had just arrived at Chelsea fresh from winning the Champions League with a relative minnow, FC Porto.

Throughout his managerial career, Mourinho has used carefully targeted barbs as a strategic weapon. Having built himself up, he then undermines his rivals. He has enjoyed particular success destabilising the currently longest-standing manager in English football, Arsene Wenger. The pair have locked horns regularly, most quote-worthily when Mourinho said his French opponent was a "specialist in failure".

Wenger's Arsenal have won just twice in 17 games against teams managed by Mourinho. One of those defeats was in that jumped up pre-season friendly, the Community Shield, but the other came last season at The Emirates Stadium.

For long periods of the Special One's first year as United boss he cut an unfamiliar figure: sullen and often silent, almost uncomfortable within his own skin. As United underperformed it felt possible that Mourinho would become just another manager unable to step out of the long shadow cast over the club by Sir Alex Ferguson.

But then Mourinho hatched a plan so cunning that we all underestimated it: he took the Europa League seriously, with the winner of the competition gaining automatic entry to the Champions League the following season. It seemed a long shot, putting his resources into what many thought of as a sideshow and staking everything on winning a cup. But the plan came to fruition when United beat Ajax in the final in May to win the trophy.

Mourinho's swagger returned when his audacious plan – to be the very best of all the rest – came off. Silverware, glory and a seat back in among Europe's elite. That night in Stockholm was even more highly charged as it came so soon after a terrorist bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Mourinho emotionally connected with the city that had previously struggled to warm to him and his ways.

United's cautious playing style under Mourinho is still sometimes questioned, but results this season have improved significantly and that goes a long way to creating good will.

In a fortnight, on Bonfire Night, United head to Stamford Bridge for one of the biggest games of the season. Sparks will fly.

The corresponding fixture last season was a humiliating one for Mourinho. It was his first game in charge of United against the team he managed so successfully across two spells. Chelsea won 4-0, Conte celebrated wildly in front of the fans who used to worship his compatriot, and Mourinho had a quiet word in his shell-like afterwards.

The tabloids claimed Mourinho accused Conte of trying to humiliate United with his actions. That was denied and unusually, Mourinho made no further comment publicly but the fact was that United had been embarrassed. It's trickier for the coach to play his mind games from the position of weakness.

Bonfire Night presents a chance for revenge. Chelsea won the title last year, but United are flying higher this season. Victory is no foregone conclusion and Mourinho's "crying" comments also serve another purpose: they allow him to get an excuse in early.

Immediately after denigrating other managers for complaining about disrupted squads, Mourinho added: "But if I want to moan and cry like the others, I can cry for the next five minutes." He then went on to list the players unavailable to him due to injury.

That Conte reacted to his comments will delight Mourinho. He revels in upsetting his rivals' equilibrium and he does it for a purpose. Should United win at his old stomping ground you can be sure we will all be watching, waiting and listening for his reaction. And doesn't he know it.

Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte
Mourinho and Conte will lock horns for the first time this season on 5 November. Getty Images