The Manchester Derby (read: Pep Guardiola vs Jose Mourinho showdown) will be nothing less than a Justice League or Thor Ragnarok blockbuster. Entire English Premier League ecosystem is looking up to this game. If Sane and co triumph, it will turn the EPL title charge, once again, into an insane one-horse race. If Jesus & co lose, their record-equalling streaks (13 matches winning in Premier league, 20 matches overall unbeaten) will immediately come under the human scanner. It is the sort of night Jose Mourinho has been hired for – to halt a rampaging bull; and a night Pep Guardiola has been scratching his bald pate non stop for – to kick-start an era of dominance in England.
Manchester is Blue
Manchester City’s two league titles this century have been huff-puff ‘just about managed to get-over-the-line’ triumphs. Both instances characterized by the unexpected slip up by rivals. Manchester United and Liverpool should have comfortably won both those league titles in 2012 & 2014, respectively. That way, ManCity are yet to win the league convincingly – precisely the reason their owners plotted patiently to put Guardiola on the hot seat. With sole-aim to remove the ambiguous, luck ridden, roller coaster rides and instead be in good Kompany. Start an era of utter domination, in the Premier League and in Europe. This is the sort of night Guardiola has been backed up with all the transfer funds for. He must flourish. Anything less than a high scoring draw will be considered a failure. Yes, for strange reasons, their yardsticks are also different. A 0-0 draw will always be counted a Mourinho victory and a Guardiola loss!
Pep vs Mou
Contrary to what is widely believed, Jose Mourinho is NOT the most successful manager against Pep Guardiola. Amongst managers who have faced the Catalan for at least ten games, Jurgen Klopp has the best record (W-D-L being 5-1-5). He is followed by Mauricio Pocchetino (2-4-5), then comes Mourinho (4-6-9) followed by Arsene Wenger (3-3-6); coincidentally all current EPL managers. Mourinho’s four wins naturally, buoyed by a London media – to whom he was a darling during and between his Chelsea managerial stints – often get more spoken about, than his nine losses. The equation between both managers last season was 1-1-1; where admittedly, the Manchester Reds’ only win was at home over a much-changed Manchester Blues’ side in the League cup. However, in this weekend’s corresponding PL fixture, last year, at Old Trafford, #SharkTeam thoroughly dominated and won 2-1, a scoreline that just flattered Mourinho’s home team. ManCity’s recent three slender 2-1 wins have been a lot closer than that OT encounter.
Key: Accuracy in front of Goal
What gives Mourinho hope is that, of late, he has fortune by his side. Arsenal had 15 shots on target, last weekend, but could squeeze in only one goal. Manchester United in that game, had just four shots on target and scored thrice! Vs Watford around a week ago, United had seven shots on target and four of them hit bull’s eye. It is this ‘accuracy inside the box’ factor that should worry Pep Guardiola, coupled with City’s own frailties against dead ball situations. In City’s hattrick of 2-1 wins, they needed 25 shots on target (vs Huddersfield, Southampton and West Ham combined) to score six goals. The three soft goals, they conceded, came off just six shots on target from the three opposition teams, combined. There was a familiarity to those three goals too … all came off routine corners.
In recent times, Manchester City has been needing to create a lot more chances to score, whilst opponents needed a lot less to score against City. United’s fate has been bang the opposite. So come Sunday, City will dominate the midfield and have shots aplenty; United will have limited chances and a few corners … but who can score?
Park the ego
United’s strategy will be predictable – hold forte (park the bus) for two-thirds of the match, make key substitutions and then look for a winner in the last third of the game. A narrow loss really doesn’t bother Jose Mourino in his (realistic) top four ambition. A thrashing will, though, send a Blue cat amongst the Red pigeons! Conversely, a win for United will give a lot of renewed hope in the title chase; and pride for Jose. Nothing will give Jose more satisfaction and arrogance, than destroying a clinical Pep Guardiola machine. Mourinho thrives on such occasions. The reason Manchester United board preferred this controversial (but hugely successful) figure over other managers, was for nights like this. For encounters like this. If Mourinho fails to beat Guardiola come 10 Dec, he will need to again go back to the drawing board and prepare a fresh plan for next season.
All Pepped up
Guardiola’s arrogance needed a West Ham struggle, last weekend. His unwanted rant, a week ago, on Nathan Redmond, enforcing the need to play football, only his way, was confirmation of the exact charges that Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pocchetino levied on him just over a month ago. “I know Pep very well and when he is excited, after an amazing victory against Chelsea, sometimes he struggles to keep his position and be a gentleman,” Pochettino said. This after Pep had casually (seemed no malice) referred to his team as the ‘Harry Kane Team’.
As karma would have it, Spurs have struggled on-field since those quotes came up … barring few goals from Harry Kane. Southampton’s Nathan Redmond, meanwhile, issued a diplomatic statement ensuring Pep’s image looks better than what those visuals suggested. Guardiola needs to remove any such belief that United will take the field to ‘play football, his way’. He needs to be fully prepared to play a ‘rich West Brom’ (as ranted by a Manchester United fan that went viral recently) and beat them.
Predicted XI: Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Delph; Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Silva; Sane, Aguero, Sterling.
Prediction: 1-2 to Manchester City