Saturday 26 May 2018

John Giles: Pep Guardiola's questionable tactics could hand derby spoils to Man United

Read John Giles' exclusive column every week in The Herald

Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola renew their rivalry tomorrow
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola renew their rivalry tomorrow
John Giles

John Giles

AN early report card on the two teams in Manchester makes positive reading for both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.

Both men clearly have full control of everything they want to do at Old Trafford and the Etihad respectively and both teams have taken maximum points from three outings.

On balance, I would give Mourinho the edge in the very early running but there are some minor concerns for him and, indeed, Guardiola which may become major worries before the year has turned.

Starting with Mourinho, it is interesting to compare his arrival to that of Louis van Gaal’s and to be honest it could hardly be more different.

Van Gaal’s hiring was done in a rush and everything that happened afterwards in terms of player recruitment was wrong.

Mourinho’s coronation took nine months and while I’m sure we have all moved beyond the way he set about getting the job, it should never be forgotten where he was just 12 months ago.

This Manchester derby is a choke point for him. We know from the past that Mourinho tends to overreact when pressure is at a peak.

So far, butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth and those who didn’t want him at Old Trafford have been appeased.

But it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if he had a blow-out on the touchline in this game. If it suits him, he will do it.

That’s a sideshow, however, to the main event and on the field I think Mourinho has had a better start than his rival across town.

My big doubt is Zlatan Ibrahimovich and the partnership with Wayne Rooney, which I don’t think is working that well.

The big man is getting his goals, but not because of any great understanding with Rooney. He’s just doing what he does when he’s switched on and in scoring form, like any striker.

But Mourinho needs 30 goals plus from this partnership and I reckon Ibrahimovic could switch off at any time before Christmas.

For Mourinho, it is a gamble to throw Rooney and Ibrahimovic together but he has Marcus Rashford sitting on the bench, the man I believe will become his first choice.

I think that will happen sooner rather than later and a decision will have to be made. My money would be on Rooney winning that battle.

We saw what the controversial Swede is like in France. Against Ireland, he hardly kicked the ball out of his way, but then turned up out of the blue to do damage.

That’s fine for Sweden, but for Manchester United to be better than they were last season, Ibrahimovic must do more. I very much doubt he can deliver it.

At the moment, goals and points are arriving the way they should. If that stops, even for three or four games, we’ll see what happens.

The concern I have about Guardiola is on two fronts. Firstly, I thought the handling of the Joe Hart situation was very odd and secondly, I remain very sceptical about this urge he has play full-backs in midfield.

The consensus view in England was that Hart was dumped because of poor distribution along the ground. If that is true, it is utterly ridiculous.

I hesitate to have a go at Guardiola for it because it would be out of character to do something so foolish. I have great respect for him and it just jars with everything I have seen from him, never mind the fact that there were good reasons for getting rid of Hart if he didn’t fancy him without thinking about his ability to play sweeper.

Throwing the ball into his own net the odd time or his habit of making serious blunders would seem much more relevant to me.

A goalkeeper keeps goal. Most managers don’t want goalkeepers doing anything else other than catching, kicking and throwing. I see nothing wrong with that approach.

A bigger issue to focus on for Manchester City fans watching their new manager closely is his use of full-backs in midfield positions.

It is a bizarre thing to do which I cannot understand and which he tried at Bayern Munich and abandoned. I sincerely hope that he won’t continue with the experiment at Manchester City. If he does, score this Manchester derby to the red side.

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