Manchester Derby Preview: Pep Guardiola v Jose Mourinhoby Chloe Beresford / 06 April 2018, 14:44Tweet
There may not be much at stake for Manchester United in terms of league position in this Saturday’s Manchester derby, but there is absolutely no doubt that Jose Mourinho will do everything in his power to stop the so-called “noisy neighbours” being crowned Premier League champions at the end of the match at the Etihad stadium.
That a win would see the title sealed at the beginning of April is concrete proof of just how dominant Pep Guardiola’s men have been this season, but a shock 3-0 defeat Champions League quarter-final first leg defeat at Anfield in midweek has somewhat changed the nature of the game.
The Catalan boss faces a conundrum before this fixture, safe in the knowledge that his opposite number Mourinho would like nothing more than to wreak havoc on City’s season. An utterly dominant domestic campaign would mean very little without success in the Champions League, an exit at the hands of an English rival unthinkable for the Blue side of Manchester.
Safe in the knowledge that the title is already sewn up – whether City win the trophy this weekend or next – it would make perfect sense to rest some players ahead of the task at hand in Europe. However, the astute boss will be all-too aware that a derby-day defeat would be psychologically damaging to his squad, hardly ideal preparation for the biggest match of the season so far versus Liverpool.
Some sources have gone so far as to say that Guardiola could make up to eight changes to his regular starting lineup, but City fans needn’t worry too much. Of twenty encounters between the pair, Mourinho has triumphed just four times, with ten wins for the Catalan and six draws. The relationship between the pair was at its most volatile when they were in charge of Spain’s top two, however things seemed to have cooled now they have both relocated to Manchester, for now at least.
Pep Guardiola vs Jose Mourinho— The Sack Race (@thesackrace) April 6, 2018
10 - Guardiola Wins
4 - Mourinho Wins
6 - Draws
If Pep wins the 21st meeting on Saturday then he'll lift the Premier League title for the first time, breaking a series of records in the process.#ManchesterDerby #MCIMUN pic.twitter.com/LqdGmGYX7O
The duo - who became friends when both working under Bobby Robson at Barcelona - fought without mercy in La Liga, but this seems to have been merely a consequence of the ferocity of being the top two in Spain. "For three years, it was just about us. Champions League matches, La Liga titles, Copa del Rey finals, Super Cup finals,” Mourinho admitted at the beginning of this season in an interview with ESPN.
“Everything was about Real and Barcelona. We were in a situation of [it being] not easy. In England, I knew, I knew before it happened that it would be completely different, because it's a completely different league. We were good friends and we showed that last season, that we could perfectly show the football world that our relationship is positive. Are we rivals? Yes. We want to win the same titles? Yes. But with the respect that we could show last season."
Yet much has changed since the beginning of the current campaign as United have failed to mount any kind of title challenge and suffered an embarrassing exit in the Champions League round of 16 to Sevilla. In the absence of a more even level of competition that we saw back when the pair were in La Liga, the Portuguese has become even more grumpy and even more stubborn than he ever was before.
Unfounded claims of the Reds being unable to complete financially with their neighbours have been continually trotted out by the boss, and the unprecedented 12-minute rant that followed the Champions League exit showed that events of this season had sent the boss to an uncomfortable place.
United fans were angered by his comments that day, so what could be better for them if their man can spoil the party on Saturday? That will, at least, provide some comfort for them in a strange encounter where local pride will be more important than anything else.