Clash of the titans
Venue: Old Trafford
Time: 1.30pm Saturday
Saturday’s Manchester derby is being promoted as the renewal of a hostile rivalry that reached boiling point more than once in Spain’s El Clásico.
The hype seems justified: José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola facing off for the first time on a Premier League stage so very different to the one they would have experienced in La Liga.
Such a direct match-up between two managers who share so much bitter history this early in the season is rare – in a sense, it is Mourinho the pragmatist versus Guardiola the football purist.
It was the Portuguese who was appointed by Real Madrid with the express brief of ending Barcelona’s dominance. That he resorted to such extreme measures to challenge tiki-taka won’t soon be forgotten.
Mourinho laid out a seven-point plan that directly opposed Barca’s almost complete domination of ball possession.
Two of the points read:
- Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake.
- Whoever has the ball has fear.
Indeed, in his 17 matches against Barcelona as Madrid manager, his side committed 346 fouls to Barcelona’s 220.
At its heart, the rivalry between Pep and José had become about one team passing, dribbling and moving, and the other brawling and fouling – darkness against light, football against anti-football.
Yet, for all the accusations made that much of Mourinho’s success is built on the merits of anti-football, he did achieve his brief by shattering Barcelona’s dominance. For one season at least.
By winning the Primera Division in 2011/12 with 100 points and 121 goals scored – a period involving a 23-match unbeaten streak and 11 wins in a row – he succeeded in toppling Guardiola’s Barca at their zenith, and he did it by playing attacking football.
Yet, Mourinho appeared to lose that aura of invincibility he has always cultivated during his final season at Chelsea.
The man whose teams had not lost at Stamford Bridge were going down to the likes of Crystal Palace and Bournemouth.
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Instead of a group of players that would fight for the manager as if he were their own flesh and blood, suddenly the divisions were gaping. For a moment in time, it seemed Mourinho had lost his touch.
Even Guardiola, for all his success with Bayern Munich, is arguably not held in the same esteem he once was at Barca during the halcyon days of winning six trophies in a calendar year in 2009.
Tiki-taka’s most obsessive chief architect is yet to win the Uefa Champions League since leaving Camp Nou. Proving he can one day do that at City without Lionel Messi and company could be his greatest test, and Saturday’s Manchester derby is his first real audition.
The clash between United and City at Old Trafford presents a fascinating back story, then. Though Mourinho has broken the world record for a transfer fee by signing Paul Pogba, and spent a fortune on the likes of Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, he also has to show he can open up to play attacking football against a side coached by Guardiola.
In a sense, he has to break one of the seven sacred rules he once used against Barca, which is to conquer the belief that whoever has the ball has fear. – TEAMtalk Media