One of the fiercest rivalries between managers in Europe, Pep Guardiola vs Jose Mourinho, returns in the form of the two on the sidelines at the Manchester Derby. Adding another dimension of hatred to the first clash between Manchester United and Manchester City this season will be Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Not that the Manchester derby needs any more negative feelings between the two sides, but the Mourinho-Guardiola rivalry escalated the violent and dirty aspect in the Barcelona-Real Madrid El Clasico matches, mostly through Mourinho pushing his players into what might consider the darker aspects of football in order to cancel out what perhaps was the best club football team ever assembled. He couldn’t stop them from winning two league titles and the Champions League in 2011, but he did win one league title with Real Madrid (2012), their only league title since 2008.
Ibrahimovic has played under both managers before, but he only remembers one of them fondly. Hearing Ibrahimovic speak about Guardiola makes you think he’s one of the most despicable people on this planet. He’s never come across as the most humble of coaches, but obviously, Ibrahimovic will always feel crossed by the only one who has ever “dared” to not treat him like god’s given gift to the masses who play and love football. It’s easy to put Ibrahimovic aside when you have Messi playing for you.
Tactically, it’ll be an interesting clash of philosophies. It’s hard to say United have been incredibly impressive since the season began. Efficient, clinical and direct might be better descriptions. Something that sits well with Mourinho. It’s not that different from the kind of football players under Louis van Gaal, only there’s a bit of happiness and enthusiasm with players, while that thing died off a long time ago during the short Van Gaal era.
City have probably been the most impressive team to watch since the Premier League season began. Guardiola has made plenty of changes to highlight the players he deems fit to play in his system. Remember, his arrival at City is quite different from the one he had in Munich. He took Bayern to 3 league titles but failed to win the Champions League or even reach the final, replacing Jupp Heynckes right after the latter won the UCL with one of the more dominant campaigns in recent history, including destroying Barcelona 7-0 along the way in two legs.
At City, Guardiola comes as someone who is here to teach the natives how to play real football. Bring back the championship (two years missing out on it after two titles in three years), and most importantly, help them become a force in Europe. The semifinal appearance last season had more to do with an easy path to that stage than City finally figuring out what works in Europe.
Mourinho is also here to stop building and philosophising about right football. Manchester United under Alex Ferguson have never been about style and flair. Sometimes it happened, plenty of times their success came from the most pragmatic and boring football possible, especially in their last league title (2013). Mourinho is as cynical and pragmatic as they come. He was once described as the Salieri to Guardiola’s Mozart. Those who love the stories behind classical music see this as a massive insult.
Football is great, but what makes it the most successful sport in the world are the stories that make it richer, bigger, filling it with grandeur and false importance. Egos clashing, especially huge and fragile egos, can sometimes overtake the size of a derby like this. It makes the stakes higher. It makes every moment a potential explosion. It might not bring English football to its heyday of 2005-2012 in terms of Champions League success and influence. It’ll make things more interesting on the pitch.