They may be perhaps the ultimate managerial foes, dramatically opposed in the way they approach their jobs both on and off the pitch, but Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola can at last share some common ground ahead of Wednesday’s Manchester derby in the EFL Cup fourth round. It is, though, a similarity that neither will want to dwell on.
Having arrived in Manchester together this summer, relaunching a rivalry that turned ugly while in charge of Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, Mourinho and Guardiola have seen positive starts turn into talk of crisis. Manchester United has now won just once in its last six Premier League matches while Manchester City has gone five Premier League victories without a victory.
That, though, is where the similarities end. For, while Manchester United is currently languishing down in seventh place in the Premier League table, Manchester City remains at the front of the pack. The questions hanging over both Mourinho and his new club are far more wide-ranging in scope.
Sunday’s 4-0 evisceration at the hands of Chelsea was a painful indicator of how far Mourinho’s once fiery star has fallen. At the home of the team he was dismissed from in disarray 10 months earlier there was no sign that he had yet recovered any of his lost sparkle.
If the performance in a goalless draw at Liverpool six days earlier had at least been effective, if not exactly easy on the eye, the display at Stamford Bridge had none of the discipline and intense focus that had been the foundation of his huge success earlier in his career.
And, while the EFL Cup is far from a priority for Mourinho or the club, he can now ill-afford the kind of further swift blow that a defeat to United’s closest rivals would bring.
Were it to happen, it would be the second home defeat to United’s local foes that Mourinho has overseen in his first four months in charge. In early September, Manchester City came away with a 2-1 win that included a mesmerizing first-half display.
In the midst of a 10-match winning streak in all competition to begin Guardiola’s reign at the Etihad, City at that point looked near-unstoppable in the Premier League. But in an illustration of how quickly things can change, City has been well beaten by Tottenham and held by Everton and Southampton in recent weeks as well as being turned over 4-0 at the home of Guardiola’s former club Barcelona.
The run has sparked questions over whether Guardiola’s insistence on playing out of the back can be successful in England and, after starting him on the bench against Barcelona, whether star striker Sergio Aguero fits into his philosophy. And Guardiola again faced questions about the Argentine on the eve of Wednesday’s clash for a place in the EFL Cup quarterfinals.
“Sergio played really well the last game,” Guardiola said in his pre-match press conference. “I want to be clear, I want to be clear again that I am so happy with Sergio, and hopefully he can stay for a long, long time here. When I said it depends on Sergio [when he leaves] it doesn't mean I don't want him to stay. I want, from deep in my heart, that he can stay here and play with us because he's a special player.”
Guardiola will be unable to call upon Kevin de Bruyne after the midfielder picked up with a calf injury, while defender Pablo Zabaleta will also miss out. Mourinho, meanwhile, will be without Eric Bailly, with the center back expected to miss two months with a knee injury picked up against Chelsea.
Prediction: While both clubs are going through a decidedly rough patch, it is Manchester United that look to have far more to do to turn results around. In Manchester City’s case, the performances have not been all that bad but rather the team has been undone by individual errors that should be ironed out. The lineups of the two teams on Wednesday, and which manager decides to rotate more, will have a major bearing on the outcome, but City should have the upper hand.
Predicted Score: Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City
Kickoff Time: 3 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: beIN Sports
Live Stream: beIN Sports Connect