There is perhaps no greater tactical duel in world football than Pep Guardiola vs Jose Mourinho. Both are world-class managers at completely opposite ends of the philosophical spectrum, who have been given pretty much the same resources to make their ideals a footballing reality. So far, it’s worked out much better for the Manchester City boss than the Manchester United gaffer – but there’s so much history between the pair that nothing can be ruled out whenever they cross paths.
So, how exactly will this match pan out from a tactical perspective? Football FanCast look at four key issues that will decide where Sunday’s Manchester Derby is lost and won…
Amid Kevin De Bruyne’s sustained absence due to injury, David Silva has been the beating heart of this Manchester City team throughout the season and his influence has been particularly felt at home – the location of all his goals and assists in the Premier League. In fact, no player in the division has averaged more key passes at home this season than the Spanish playmaker with a whopping 3.7. United won’t be able to stop Silva’s influence entirely, but the more they can reduce his capacity to control the game, the greater chance they’ll have of taking a point or more back to Old Trafford.
Nemanja Matic will be the most defensive element in United’s midfield this Sunday but the somewhat futile task of trying to keep a leash on Silva will predominantly fall to countryman Ander Herrera. He’s not always a guaranteed starter under Mourinho but a regular for the Red Devils in big games like Sunday’s and in contrast to Matic, a largely static presence, he’s got the natural agility and aggression keep up with Silva.
Part of what makes Guardiola and Mourinho’s rivalry so iconic, aside from the fact both are clearly world-class managers, is that they represent polarised philosophies and we should see that materialise throughout the course of Sunday’s game. Not least because their form has been so drastically superior this season and they boast home advantage, Manchester City will look to control the ball as much as possible against the Red Devils.
But that, in theory at least, only plays to Mourinho’s traditional strengths, if not necessarily this United team’s. The ever-pragmatic Portuguese has built much of his career on taking points off his rivals away from home by reducing the game to a scrappy war of attrition, and will only relish the prospect of doing that to a Guardiola side in their own back yard. That said, there’s one vital ingredient missing here – a strong defence that can withstand pressure for long periods.
Manchester United famously pulled off a second-half comeback in this exact fixture last season, all the more pertinently delaying their noisy neighbours’ title celebrations for another week. That game felt like a turning point but in truth, it’s actually set a dangerous precedent at Old Trafford – United have developed a habit of starting games in disastrous form before staging comebacks, a pattern that has run through three of their last four Premier League games.
More optimistic United fans would draw comparisons with the Ferguson era, famed for its late drama and thrilling comebacks. Against a team like City though, being lackadaisical or any way off the pace in the opening stages could leave the Red Devils with simply too much to do to get themselves back into the game. There will be an underlying confidence that United can produce something special regardless of the score, but the more open the Red Devils become, the more City will be able to pick them off on the break.
Juan Mata has been a key influence in United’s recent resurgence in results, but he seems a poor fit for the counter-attacking game-plan Mourinho intends to undertake, and we all know the distrust the Portuguese has shown towards the 41-cap Spaniard when starting big games previously. That said, Mata remains a fantastic option from the bench as someone who can change the game and either the shape of United’s forward line or midfield.
Likewise, while Riyad Mahrez’s last outing in a big game went pretty disastrously – that shocker of a penalty at Anfield – the Algerian has been in stunning form since then, scoring against Burnley and Tottenham and grabbing three assists in his two outings against Shakhtar Donetsk. Raheem Sterling’s never scored against United and if the England international looks set to draw another blank this time as well, Guardiola will have no hesitation in throwing Mahrez on.