Manchester Derby: How Pep Guardiola put Jose Mourinho in his place
The 172nd Manchester derby headlined the Gameweek 4 of the new Premier League season. And rightly, the build up witnessed a flurry of news articles, bylines et al. giving the fixture prime space in every conceivable sphere.
The match was not a classic, per se; but it nonetheless managed to create a buzz around it, thanks to the involvement of two high profile managers in Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. They have a 'combined' history of repulsive to accentuated way of living in football famedom. Either's accordant notes could only be best found when in each others company.
About the match, it was good to the extent that it was a football match with insanely costly players doing their bits. But most importantly, there was a result. Citizens won 2-1, and possibly proving – once again – they are no longer the 'noisy neighbors'.
Arrogance apart, England's greatest club – playing at home – was clueless in the first half. Only a salvaged second half enlivened the contest. The disparity in the first 45 minutes' play was such that the proverbial term, 'shadow chasing' would do some justice in describing the proceedings.
But for the Citizens, the ordinary continued to sip in, and paid the price. Or it looked.
Here's a lowdown on the match, and of course that bit about the Special One's first on field meeting with his bete noire in England, the home of football.
To begin with, it's perplexing to see how an individual rivalry managed to reduce a century-old fixture to a parade of managers. Probably, that's what modern day sports is all about. The prominence of individual one-upmanship over the collective known as 'institution'.
Yes, on that, we have had plenty to discuss and cry, from politics to sports. Such is the world we live in. As a constituent or not, answers are unlikely to find. Because, it's our own design.
There, we have Messrs Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, two modern day dream merchants, with an arsenal of uber expensive global superstars at their disposal. Forgive the superlatives. That's required. Mind you, some clubs exist and continue to surprise everyone with a minuscule amount spent.
Coming to the protagonists, the 172nd Manchester derby failed to reignite the famed rivalry between Guardiola and Mourinho. It's only a tone-down version of what we had seen in the past, at Santiago Bernabeu, at Camp Nou. In fact, we have seen 'nastier' touchlines duels involving other managers.
Few gentle handshakes at Old Trafford, the Theater of Dreams, were all that one can sell from the match, much to the chagrin of fans. It certainly was billed as the start of a new rivalry!
Wiser, and somber managers! And that's what was reflected clearly in the field of play.
Both the teams entered the field with players ranked as costliest to expensive. But on paper, United seemed to have a better team for two reasons – money spent on the players and and the history. But there was, as usual, a caveat on the line of 'spending more doesn't always mean getting the best'. And we all know, history last as long as the moment.
The presence of Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrickh Makhitariyan, Paul Pogba, David de Gea... certainly makes Mourinho's side strong. In them, he trusted. But when they failed, he became sombre and sunk in.
In contrast, Guardiola arrived with his star player Sergio Aguero missing, thanks to a three-match suspension for some errant elbow action. But an XI with Iheanacho, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Claudio Bravo returned victorious, because United's Portuguese manager failed to utilize his best available manpower.
Undermining one's fire-power, or that of his team's is the first fatal step towards an inevitable damnation, imagining we all have nine lives to live out our destiny. Here, in this case, Mourinho will come reinforced next time these two teams meet. He too knows, better teams win, and better preparation is as important as buying.
Coming to manpower, the United bench was warmed for better part of the contest by talents who would have been scorching the field instead. One certainty was Marcus Rashford, the prodigious forward who had scored the winner last time these two teams met.
And there was a case of star power going poof. Mourinho's over reliance on established players backfired with both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba making an invisible display. They were launched with much fanfare upon their arrival at Old Trafford, and in fact had good outings against teams of lesser repute.
There's no doubt, they are world class players, but United would have been benefited by simply playing Juan Mata, instead of the Armenian.
In Pogba's case, an ineffective Jesse Lingard ahead of him meant that the Frenchman was always sacrificing his attacking play. Had a more physical and fast Anthony Martial manned the flank, Pogba would have exploited the acres of space thus available from the runs made by his French compatriot.
Evidently, couple of changes for United during the interval enlivened the contest. And the second half certainly belonged to the Reds, even though the contest after the melon break was ruled by frenetic runs rather than calculated moves.
That's where the match was decided, when a meticulous City side took the two-goal lead in the first half. The second half action, despite all its chances, was all but mopping up work for the Citizens.
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