Friday 24 March 2017

Mourinho urges United to bully City's slickers

James Ducker

Jose Mourinho has instructed his Manchester United players to bully Manchester City in the air tomorrow as Old Trafford braces itself for the most high-profile match in British top-flight history.

With a record-breaking global television audience expected to tune into the eagerly awaited first clash between Mourinho and nemesis Pep Guardiola in Manchester, United's players are under strict orders to exploit their huge height advantage over City.

And the tallest player of them all, 6ft 5in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, has warned his United team-mates it is essential they lay down an early marker in the title race by maintaining their 100pc start to the season and ending that of their bitter derby rivals as he urged the home supporters to create a hostile environment.

Ambition

"It is a long season but we have started well," the United striker said. "We have the ambition to win the title and it will be important that we try and take points off the teams that will be challenging.

"These games always mean so much to the fans and we want to win for them but the players must always be focused.

"I have played in many leagues in many countries but the Manchester (United) fans have eclipsed anything I have ever known. Every game this season they have been the 12th man on the field for us, and if we are going to have a successful season, they will play a big part."

Mourinho has been giving much consideration this week to starting Marcus Rashford as part of the attack with Ibrahimovic in the belief that the teenage sensation's pace could ask serious questions of City's defence as he prepares to lock horns with Guardiola for the first time since their toxic rivalry in Spain with Real Madrid and Barcelona.

But one certainty will be the United manager's request that his players optimise dead-ball situations, invite fouls in City's final third and deliver quality crosses, confident that they can hurt their opponents aerially, even if the Portuguese's tactics will be cuter than simply a long-ball approach.

Whereas City are likely to start with only two outfield players who are over 6ft - central defenders John Stones and Aleksandar Kolarov or Nicolas Otamendi - and five players who are 5ft 9in or less, United have five anticipated outfield starters who are more than 6ft tall, including Ibrahimovic, the 6ft? 4in Marouane Fellaini and 6ft 3in Paul Pogba, and several just below 6ft.

United also believe that whoever starts in goal for City - 6ft new signing Claudio Bravo or 6ft 1in Willy Caballero - could be vulnerable in the air.

Mourinho hopes Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia will be available as the pace, energy and delivery the pair provide from the full-back positions are important to his game plan.

Shaw pulled out of England's squad last week after complaining of an ache in the leg he broke last season and Valencia is not due to return from international duty with Ecuador until today, when he will be assessed, although it remains likely he will start.

City midfielder Fernandinho believes the fiery history between Mourinho and Guardiola will give an extra edge to a game that is tipped to be the most watched British league match ever as well as the most expensive fixture in football history, given that the expected starting line-ups will cost a combined fee of almost £600m.

"This game is big, man," Fernandinho said. "It's a game that stops the city. And as it's the first time Pep and Mourinho will be here in charge of teams in this derby, it will be an extra attraction."

Guardiola is likely to start Kelechi Iheanacho up front in the absence of the suspended Sergio Aguero, although he could opt to use Nolito as a false nine and bring Leroy Sane into the side for his debut after the Germany winger missed the first four weeks of the season with a hamstring injury.

Another new signing, Ilkay Gundogan, is also available.

Mentality

Fernandinho believes Guardiola has already changed the club's mentality and that City will be a far tougher proposition for United than the side that lost two of the previous three derbies under Manuel Pellegrini.

"In that month and a half, almost two months working together, you notice a big difference to the other managers I've had," the Brazilian said. "It's no wonder why he was a winner where he went, starting at Barcelona and then at Bayern Munich. I hope he can also be a winner here at City.

"The way he works is very cool, very interesting. It's a way that you can understand everything he wants, everything he asks you to do. He explains why you do certain kinds of things in the game, in training, tactical situations of how to attack, how to defend."

Ibrahimovic, who has branded Guardiola a "spineless coward" and "not a man" in the past, is unlikely to share Fernandinho's assessment and the Swede believes the real managerial genius will be in the United dugout.

"Mourinho is a mastermind," Ibrahimovic said. "I do not have many regrets but I did regret that I did not get to play under Mourinho for longer (at Inter Milan). When the opportunity came again for him to be my coach at United, it was an easy decision. He knows everything about the game, who would not want to be coached by him?"

Pogba stoked the fires yesterday by changing his Facebook profile to a picture of him above the words "Manchester is Red" and Ibrahimovic expects Mourinho to turn the France midfielder into a driving force.

"He is a big player and I know under Mourinho he can become complete," Ibrahimovic said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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