At the start of this season, one of the key battles Premier League fans were eager to see was between the red and the blue side of Manchester.
With an eventful past when Mourinho and Guardiola were managers at Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, the stage seemed set for a true managerial rivalry we haven’t seen since Wenger and Ferguson. Two of the biggest teams in the league, two of football’s most successful managers; and both the antithesis of the other.
Guardiola is seemingly the man of new, innovative ideas in football. Regardless on your views on “how easy” he’s had it, it’s hard to deny his influence on expansive, attacking and possession-based football.
Mourinho, on the other hand, focuses more on disciplined performances. Holding positions, being effective on the counter and grinding out the results. Both methods can yield results, so how have they fared this season?
It’s fair to say Guardiola is currently coming out on top. City currently have six wins out of six and are averaging three goals a game. They also beat United 2-1 in the derby. United on the other hand are in sixth and, while it’s not the worst start, the gulf between the two sides is already showing in other areas.
One difference is that Guardiola has immediately come in, stamped his authority and made the club his own. Most of the players seem to be buying into his philosophy, regardless if they are new signings or those were present in Pellegrini’s reign. Those who have refused, or don’t seem up to the task, have either been exiled (Yaya Toure) or shipped out on loan (Hart, Nasri, Mangala).
Mourinho is apparently having a tougher time winning his men over. Bar the easy early season wins against Southampton and the 4-1 win over Leicester at the weekend, United haven’t looked especially inspiring or played with any identity, particularly in their three consecutive defeats to City, Feyenoord and Watford. The Portuguese even went on record as saying United’s players are still under Louis van Gaal’s influence.
If that’s the case, it isn’t the Dutchman who is to blame, but Mourinho.
Rather than the players being “indoctrinated” by van Gaal, perhaps Mourinho just isn’t doing enough to make them forget. After all, City have seemingly wasted no time in motivating themselves to move on from Pellegrini.
There are two factors which could explain why Guardiola is succeeding where Mourinho isn’t; a difference in personalities and a difference in philosophy.
Mourinho’s way in handling his staff has been well-documented in the past. As was discussed in the Sunday Supplement this weekend, Guardiola and Mourinho have had similar problems to deal with – you could write pages alone about the differences in how Toure’s and Schweinsteiger’s cases have been dealt with – and it seems as though the Spaniard’s methods have fared better.
The other factor could simply be down to the tactics. The most successful managers this season have brought something new to their sides. Klopp has brought his ‘Gegenpressing’ to Liverpool while notably working with the same core squad available to Brendan Rodgers and Pochettino has also brought in a high-pressure game to Spurs using mostly what AVB had available to him, securing them Champions League football and making them into title challengers.
Pundits have been waxing lyrical about Guardiola since the opening day against Sunderland. The way the full-backs are sitting narrower to play through the middle, or wingers like Sterling and Nolito are stretching the play. It’s by no means his finished product, but the Spaniard is undoubtedly managing playing his way and backing it up with results.
Mourinho did this once. When the Portuguese came to our shore most clubs played 4-4-2, but Mourinho brought in his 4-5-1 formation to Chelsea and won the league. After that, one-striker formations became the norm for the majority of clubs.
The problem for Mourinho is that was the 2004-05 season, and he has barely moved on in 12 years. He had great success at Inter but was often found wanting in La Liga. He won the league with Chelsea playing 4-2-3-1 in 2014/15 but was soon sacked after performances went down the drain. He is now playing with the same formation in a style not much different to Louis Van Gaal’s and is again looking like he’ll struggle.
No one manager will ever find a ‘win all’ tactic in the ever changing game. The man who came closest, at least in the Premier League, was Sir Alex Ferguson. But even he adapted to respond to Mourinho by changing his formation. It is the mark of a successful manager.
Unfortunately for United, Mourinho seems to be stubbornly sticking to his guns with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Fellaini and Pogba are struggling in a pivot as Fabregas and Matic did. While drafting in Herrera yielded a win at the weekend, it would be very surprising if it sold the problem long-term.
And if Mourinho fails to adapt, it’ll be the blue side of Manchester cheering more often than not.