Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! As lifelong arch-enemies José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola prepare to face each other in the season’s first Manchester derby on Saturday, we ask writers Matt Blake and Jack Prescott who will ultimately come out on top.
Mourinho: He’s a born champion
“Stare into Mourinho’s eyes and you will see the cold, hard gaze of a champion” - Jack Prescott, sports writer, Virgin Media
He’ll get under Pep’s skin
Let’s get the issue of mind games out of the way nice and early. José Mourinho is the king of the psychological barb, and at some point this season his words will pierce Pep Guardiola’s cool shell and make his managerial rival squirm. It’s happened before, of course. An exasperated Guardiola described Mourinho as “the f****** boss of the pressroom. The f****** master,” following a long-running campaign of verbal venom in Spain. Could you imagine a similar outburst from Pep in front of the bloodthirsty British media? It could have far-reaching consequences in the title race.
He’s a natural born winner
Stare into Mourinho’s eyes and you will see the cold, hard gaze of a champion. Since he spectacularly burst onto the scene with Porto in 2002, José has got his hands on silverware wherever he’s gone (23 trophies and counting, in fact). You could send him to some footballing hinterland to coach a group of bemused locals and, chances are, he would have them playing in the UEFA Champions League within three years. United fans have been crying out for a manager with an unshakeable character and the success to back it up (Louis van Gaal’s CV was all smoke and mirrors in comparison). Now they have one.
He knows exactly what it takes to win the Premier League
Yes, the Premier League is an easy target if hype, bluster and hyperbole make you scramble for the sick bag, but you know deep down that England’s top flight trumps the predictable action of La Liga or the Bundesliga every time. With three Premier League titles to his name, José Mourinho knows everything there is to know about going the distance in the Premier League. If the stars align in his favour and his star-studded squad keep doing what they’re doing, it could well be title number four for the "Special One”.
Mourinho brings players together like nobody else
Speak to any of his former charges and most of them will say the same thing: the "Special One” creates a team spirit unlike any manager out there. John Terry, Frank Lampard, Sergio Ramos, Javier Zanetti… these are men that would eat rusty nails with battery-acid dressing for breakfast if Mourinho ordered them to. And now he has found his spiritual home. Nobody likes him and nobody likes Manchester United, which means the siege mentality that Mourinho thrives on will be more potent than ever.
The pressure is off
Mourinho’s main task this season is getting United a top-four finish. Forget shiny trophies: the shareholders at Old Trafford want the club back in the cash-laden UEFA Champions League. And despite the team’s strong start to the campaign, the truth is that silverware of any description would be a bonus. Down the road at the Etihad, Guardiola is expected to have City playing in a style that fills all of those empty seats, fighting for the Premier League crown and making some serious noise in Europe. I know who I’d rather be.
Guardiola: He knows how to beat José
“He seems the Superman of managerial mind games, but he has one weakness: Peptonite” - Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
Mourinho’s not the ice king we think
When Mourinho won his third Premier League title with Chelsea in 2015, he didn’t laud his players or remind the world how wonderful he is. No, he took a swipe at Guardiola, who’d just won the German title with Bayern. “I could [have chosen] another club in another country where to be champion is easier.” He didn’t name Guardiola, but the allusion was clear – Pep’s title meant less than his. It was a powerful insight into José’s headspace. He may seem the Superman of managerial mind games, but he has one weakness: Peptonite. The closer he gets the more it reduces his powers. We’ll see if it makes him human.
Pep’s won more head-to-heads
City and United are the strongest teams this season. As often happens when a league distils into a two-horse race, as many are predicting, it is won and lost on head-to-heads. And as far as stats can be trusted, Guardiola has won seven of the pair’s 16 clashes, lost three and drawn six. That’s a win ratio of 44%, compared to Mourinho’s 19%. Saturday’s game is going to be crucial.
Not afraid to make big decisions
Mourinho is coming off the back of the worst title defence in Premier League history. Chelsea collapsed under him because he couldn’t control the dressing room, instead drowning in a white-water river of football egos none of which, ironically, were his own. Pep, on the other hand, has already shown his iron will in cutting adrift England keeper Joe Hart. It’s the footballing equivalent of a silverback gorilla who, upon taking over a new troop, slaughters the offspring of the leader he’s just dethroned to sire new babies of his own. It leaves no doubt as to who’s boss, and sends a message that he is prepared to do whatever necessary to survive or, in Pep’s case, to win.
Pep likes carrots, too
Guardiola is not all stick; he likes carrots too. Footballers are delicate flowers who require constant love and attention to stem the overwhelming insecurities of playing in the world’s most scrutinised sport. And, while he’s happy to clear weeds when needs must, he’ll sprinkle his players with enough praise to uphold their flimsy petals… and they love him for it. It’s even got it’s own name: “The Pep Effect”. Mourinho couldn’t do that at Chelsea last season and, unless he changes his approach this, he’ll see trouble at United. Pep wouldn’t make that mistake himself.
Pep reinvented football
What Guardiola did at Barcelona, between 2008 and 2012, was nothing short of witchcraft. It wasn’t just era-defining; he basically reinvented the game with a brand of dizzying merry-go-round passing, hard-running and frictionless total possession football. No other manager – not even Mourinho – has created a footballing philosophy that not only practically guarantees success, but is a sheer joy to watch whoever you support. It was spellbinding at Barcelona, bewitching at Bayern and, just as happened three times apiece in both Spain and Germany, the Premier League is about to come under his spell.
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