Sunday 23 July 2017

Who will triumph when Guardiola and Mourinho face off in Manchester derby?

Pep Guardiola, left, and Jose Mourinho, right, are set to meet again in the Manchester derby on Thursday
Pep Guardiola, left, and Jose Mourinho, right, are set to meet again in the Manchester derby on Thursday

When one of football's most ferocious and toxic personal rivalries came to Manchester last summer, the game crackled with anticipation.

Having fought a bitter and intense battle as the competing managers of Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, any renewal of hostilities between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho was certain to command huge attention.

But the pair were not only both taking on new challenges in the Premier League, but heading for the same city. Just a few miles would separate Guardiola at Manchester City from his nemesis Mourinho at United, and the situation was perfect for those involved in marketing.

The first Manchester derby of the season at Old Trafford in September was hyped to an extraordinary level for a regular league fixture with most of the attention on the men in the technical areas.

Adding to the intensity was the fact both sides had 100 per cent records. It seemed the latest Guardiola-Mourinho duel would be fought at close proximity and at the top of the league.

Events since, however, have dampened what was assumed to be a powder keg waiting to explode.

City failed to sustain a meaningful title challenge as defensive weaknesses undermined their impressive attack while United have spent most of the season outside the top four, playing solid but unspectacular football.

In such circumstances, these managers whose past dealings would be kindly described as unedifying had little reason to exchange the verbal barbs many had expected.

Their other meeting, in the EFL Cup in October, also came too early in the season to be regarded as a serious grudge match.

This calming of hostilities may also have been begun deliberately by the men themselves before the season started.

While the pair were in Spain, most notably during an 18-day period in 2011 when their teams met four times in different competitions, the rivarly between Barca and Real became as sour and rancorous as it ever has been. The managers were right at the heart of it with a war of words running throughout.

Mourinho denigrated Guardiola's Champions League achievements in comparison to his own, saying the Catalan needed to "win this competition properly" and not with aid of victories such as "the scandal of the Bernabeu".

Guardiola responded with some good quips such as, "Off the pitch he's won - let them give him a Champions League for it" but the heavy mental toll of the battle was thought partly to be behind his decision to take a year off in 2012.

Even then there was a parting shot. "It's his life, but for me it's unthinkable to take a sabbatical," Mourinho said. "He is younger than me, but I'm not tired."

Yet the tone was different when Mourinho was unveiled at Old Trafford last July.

"To speak about one manager, one club, one enemy I don't think it is right," he said. "If you focus on one opponent, the others will be laughing so I am not going to be part of it."

Guardiola agreed, saying at his own arrival press conference: "I think Jose said it pretty well that it is not about him or me."

The mood has been much the same since with neither adding fuel to a fire that has, for now at least, stopped raging. It remains to be seen how long that lasts.

The title may be long gone but the stakes are high as the pair meet at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday. Vital Champions League qualification points are on the line as the tight battle for top-four places nears its climax.

The stage is set for a night of drama. There will be plenty waiting to see just how uneasy the truce on the sidelines is.

Press Association

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