As the Manchester Derby draws ever so closer, we take a look at the showpiece event and the potential fireworks it promises.
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
Having celebrated their two year anniversaries at their respective clubs in different halves of the same city just a few months prior, the contrasting directions in which their respective reigns have moved has never been more apparent than at this point in their tenures.
It seems more fate than irony that even the colors seem symbolic – Mourinho’s tenure in Mancunia littered with red flags while Guardiola’s regime remains far more serene, far more blue. While one is still figuring out how to put together the pieces of a curious conundrum, the other has already built an orchestra he is bent on perfecting even further.
Moving to the starts both of these clubs have had, United come into the game on the back of their worst start in 29 years, 9 points off the pace already – City leading the pack with 29. United have been beaten thrice while City remain unbeaten. The goal difference looks even more grim for United as they languish in 7th with a a solitary +1 against their names, City again leading with a staggering goal difference of +29.
Also in stark focus prior to the game is the relationship between the bosses and their respective sets of players.
Starting with Mourinho – a quote by Frank Lampard surfaced in midweek,”Part of the aura, of his personality, was that when he sat us down he relaxed us instantly. He created a real family atmosphere at the time, which was, I think, brilliantly done. It was as magical as any of his tactical talks.”, said the former Chelsea man about Mourinho, emphasizing the ‘family’ atmosphere he created in their time together.
Ibrahimovic, Essien, Terry – the list of players willing to run through a wall for the man goes on and on. All of which makes his current situation at United even more curious, case in point being his relationship with Paul Pogba as well as numerous other squad members. There appears a silver lining though as Mourinho’s tough love finally seems to be reaping some rewards – Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial seemingly in the form of their life after being on the receiving end of some of Mourinho’s worst tirades, both making it a point to highlight the normalcy and happiness in their relationship with him this season.
Guardiola’s relationship with his squad on the other hand appears chalk and cheese in comparison. A very good example being their recently released documentary in which he promises his players to defend them at all costs in front of the media, but also stresses he will not be shy to blast them away in private. Unlike Mourinho, he has rarely, if ever, hung his players out to dry in public and seems to have achieved the perfect balance between tough love and praise – something the Portuguese was often thought to be a master of in his younger days.
While there is little that hasn’t already been said in terms of praise for Guardiola’s men, there is the small matter of Mourinho’s troops staging their own resurgence this season. What was promised to be the start of a testing period, perhaps even the most testing – of his reign at the club has instead become a showpiece where United have gone on and showed that they can indeed compete with the best. The Manchester Derby is the final fixture of the run of ‘tough’ games that United have been subject to, a run in which they nearly won at Stamford Bridge, ran Juventus close at Old Trafford and finally made amends by sealing a memorable win at Turin, the first English team to beat Juventus away in 15 years as well as the first to beat them this season. Mourinho – not short of theatrics, cupped his ears to the Turin crowd at full time, in an image sure to go into his repertoire of iconic celebrations.
The mood in both camps, thus, is nothing short of happy and even though there might be an apparent gulf in class, either side will be equally confident of claiming a victory. The Cityzens have surely not forgotten the last time they met United at their own turf, a memorable 3-2 win for the Red Devils, while United will not have fond memories of the first fixture at Old Trafford either. While City are a definite personification of Guardiola on the pitch, this is a United team that is surely Jose Mourinho in spirit, if not in style – having made a habit of coming from behind under the Portugese.
Finally, in terms of the city of Manchester itself, it’s all about bragging rights the morning after.
As ‘King’ Cantona famously quipped,
“The Blues and Reds invade the streets and if your team wins, the city belongs to you.”