Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Guardiola v. Mourinho II: United 1 City 0

Mourinho’s numbers against Guardiola are the stuff that nightmares are made of. 18 games and only four wins is not the sort of record any manager would like to have against one of their main rivals. Particularly when Guardiola has won nine of those games, with five draws (one game did go to penalties, with Pep winning the Super Cup in the process). But that fourth win today will do wonders to turn around a souring tide at Old Trafford and does even their record within England this season. Guardiola might have won the more important game, 2-1 in the league, but this will be sweet revenge for Mourinho, just as his season appeared to be unraveling before his suddenly sleepy eyes.

Guardiola won’t worry too much about the loss, particularly as it is the least important of the four competitions City are competing in and he played with a severely weakened side. But a win is a win and a six game run without a victory is certainly troubling for a manager who has never experienced that in his sparkling career. For City, it is the first time they have had a long winless streak this long since 2008 and the first time since 2012 they went an entire game without a solitary shot on goal.  

What might be most worrying, however, was the level of play for City, who sent wayward pass after wayward pass throughout the game, got caught out with some suspect defending on the Mata winner and seem to have a lack of confidence that is not new to this side. The fact Kompany came off after 45 minutes, purportedly because he was tired, might also cause concern. And there is the fact they need a victory to stop the bleeding but Guardiola decided to take a pass on ending his winless streak against a rival who was suffering through his own troubling spell.

The hero here is a guy who doesn’t seem to get the respect that he deserves. At Chelsea, after two straight years as player of the year, he was largely consigned to the bench by Mourinho before being unceremoniously sold to a direct rival. Now that Mourinho has returned to United, he has left the Spaniard largely out in the cold again, even as he continues to contribute and score whenever given the chance. Rumors even have him heading to Milan in the winter, a move that seems a bit odd given the dearth of offensive threat from his side so far this season.

And while Mourinho and United will take some comfort from this victory, there is still the troubling form of the most expensive player in the world and a guy who chipped in 50 goals a season ago. Ibrahimovic had one of the worst 45 minutes of his career, according to Jamie Carragher and other observers, though he redeemed himself partially by providing the assist for the winning goal. Pogba, on the other hand, was largely anonymous yet again, and one has to now wonder if the pressure of his pricetag is pushing him to try too hard and lose his form in the process.

In the larger scope of things, the game won’t matter much for other side unless United go on to win the League Cup, but winning a skirmish of this nature will certainly bolster Mourinho while amplifying the critique of Guardiola’s stubbornness. United have a good chance to get through to the semis, hosting a struggling West Ham at Old Trafford in the next round. Arsenal take on Southampton at the Emirates, Liverpool host Leeds at Anfield and strugglers Hull City invite a streaking Newcastle to KCOM.

Liverpool is the hottest side among the remaining teams, though Arsenal are still undefeated since their opening day loss to the Reds and have added a defensive stability long absent from the side. One would expect the winner to come among the big three left in the competition, but you never know …

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