Friday 15 December 2017

Ronnie Whelan: Pep Guardiola is an innovator but Jose Mourinho will try nothing new

Read Ronnie Whelan's exclusive column every week in The Herald

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola
Ronnie Whelan

Ronnie Whelan

On the evidence of the first big derby game of the season, Pep Guardiola is winning his battle at the Etihad but I’m not so sure Jose Mourinho is doing as well at Old Trafford

I remember during the Community Shield, as I was watching Mourinho’s first competitive game in charge of Manchester United, and wondering why I couldn’t see anything different from the team Louis van Gaal put out on the pitch for two seasons.

Watching City completely dominate the first 45 minutes at Old Trafford on Saturday with a pacey, passing game which caught United cold, it struck me again that this might as well have been van Gaal’s United I was watching.

Certainly, I see no comparisons to be made with Alex Ferguson’s teams even though Mourinho spent big during the summer and according to himself, got pretty much everything he wanted.

It is, of course, very early to be making any judgements but I think it was plain to see from the way City played that Guardiola’s thinking has already taken root.

He is a deep, deep thinker about the game and from that comes something like his interest in playing full-backs in midfield, something he avoided in this game.

I think he genuinely feels he can do something new with the full-backs and while there may be an element of being clever just to be clever, I’m inclined to think of Guardiola as a trend setter who will change the game in England if he stays in Manchester long enough or at least, change the fashion.

Mourinho, on the other hand, will try nothing new and is currently trying to fit all his pieces into a very complex jigsaw which will be familiar to him.

This Manchester United is about physical power and a big man up front.

Towards the end of the game with United desperately seeking an equaliser, it was all about Ibrahimovic and the long ball and I wonder how long the Old Trafford faithful will put up with that.

Mourinho’s trademark method at Chelsea was all about defensive organisation and more about stopping other teams playing than creating any pretty pictures.

It was a very effective approach and delivered conspicuous success at Chelsea twice before Mourinho got his marching orders for the second time from Roman Abramovich.

Right now, I’m not sure what Mourinho is trying to do but he is relying heavily on Ibrahimovic to score individual opportunistic goals, rather than quality build-up play creating chances for the Swedish international.

Marcus Rashford is a born striker, but he’s stuck out on the left and I have a feeling that Zlatan won’t be first choice by the time we reach the finishing line in nine months time.

He’s scoring but there’s nothing joined up about the way he interacts with team-mates and the fact that long balls in the last ten minutes were Mourinho’s only chance of an equaliser was telling.

At Anfield, we had another instalment of the Liverpool roller-coaster, although this time the thrills and spills were all good.

So far this season, Liverpool won well away from home against Arsenal, got a decent draw at Spurs, hammered Leicester and lost to Burnley.

Not surprisingly, the result most fans are hung up on is the Burnley game which looks even odder in the context of the other results against three of last season’s top four.

Liverpool were dynamic and clinical against Leicester and the performance was good enough to answer most doubts about the team.

But then you look at the fixture list and see that Hull City are visiting Anfield next week and many Liverpool fans will have concerns about that.

For years now, Liverpool have been flattering and then deceiving. This goes back to Hodgson and Dalglish.

Brendan Rodgers finally seemed to crack the problem but it came roaring back as strong as ever once Luis Suarez left the club.

For Jurgen Klopp to break the habit, he must find something in these players that is missing and Hull City is as good a team to start with as any.

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