The Manchester Derby: Feud For Thought
So long, international break. Off you go. For another month at least. Let us savour proper football till then. Yes, what you hear right now, is the sound of my feet stomping wildly in pure delirium and what a game to welcome us back – The Manchester Derby (or what others will simply tag Jose Mourinho vs Pep Guardiola)
If the 2015/2016 season was a fairy tale story (for Leicester City), then I can certainly assure you the 2016/2017 version will be a blockbuster. And these two heavyweights, will surely play leading roles. I’m not a fan of history, so maybe I shouldn’t bore you with their rivalry – 20 years in the making. But it all began with Mourinho as Louis van Gaal’s assistant, while Guardiola was the chief conductor in Barcelona’s midfield. In 2008, Barcelona overlooked the Portuguese, who was already winning hearts and trophies, to hire Guardiola. The Spaniard repaid the Catalan club’s faith instantly, winning the Treble in the 2008/2009 season. Mourinho achieved the same feat a year later, beating Barcelona along the way.
The rivalry started to grow quickly.
Let’s not talk about when Mourinho got the Real Madrid job and schemed how to terminate Guardiola’s omnipotence in Spain. Not sure it’s even the Special One’s favourite topic for discussion. It’s 2016. Mourinho has taken over as Manchester United, replacing Van Gaal. Guardiola is just across the city. Both arrived England, with their reputations somewhat stained. Roman Abramovich sacked Mourinho for the second time last December, while Guardiola failed to reach a Champions League final in three years at Bayern Munich.
Saturday is the first of many hurdles for either man, to clear his path to redemption. Both United and City go into this one with a 100% record. It is instructive to note that the two teams, have not exactly steamrollered opposition in achieving a perfect start. Their last fixtures in the Premier League proved that. United needed Marcus Rashford to score deep in added time to over out-of-sorts Hull City, while Raheem Sterling’s late goal, settled a lot of nerves against West Ham.
Mourinho has an edge. And it is not even about Sergio Aguero’s three-match ban for elbowing Winston Reid. It is not even about his experience in the Premier League. The former Chelsea boss has a more robust squad and will deploy all in his arsenal, to stifle the new-found fluidity City possess. Having said so, both managers will be looking to take all three points. It will make a huge statement to the other teams. I’ve always felt the title will be won by either Manchester club. But let’s not ignore Antonio Conte and the quiet, efficient work he is doing at Chelsea. He also has achieved a perfect start so far and takes his team to struggling Swansea on Sunday. There is no room for error. Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur may be currently out of the top four, but it will be folly to rule them out. This is the Premier League, where we all watched Leicester finish first last season.
Looking at the fixture list for September and October, you immediately know that the two months will be season-defining. Yes, these are early days. But don’t you dare blink! It is all set up for Guardiola and Mourinho. Very different. Yet, very similar. Intense taskmasters, who both hate to lose, whether it will be achieved by purity of passing or cold-blooded pragmatism. The two-week break didn’t favour any club manager, but it is time to get on with the business of recording points on the table.
In case you missed it the first time, I repeat: the international break is over. And all roads and air routes lead to Manchester.