Red Devils look to halt City march

Af­ter show­ing re­silience with good wins, Mour­inho’s side will be high on con­fi­dence in the Manch­ester Derby

The Free Press Journal - - FPJ SPORTS -

Manch­ester United turned to Jose Mour­inho as the an­ti­dote to their “noisy neigh­bours” Manch­ester City fi­nally achiev­ing their longheld goal of hir­ing Pep Guardi­ola as man­ager in 2016.

Re­u­nited in Eng­land’s north­west af­ter two con­fronta­tional years on ei­ther side of the Barcelona-Real Madrid ri­valry, where Mour­inho ended Guardi­ola’s three sea­sons of La Liga dom­i­nance, United clearly hoped the feisty Por­tuguese could again get un­der the Cata­lan’s skin.

But now in their third sea­sons in charge, Guardi­ola and Mour­inho’s reigns have in­stead seen a chasm open up with the blue half of Manch­ester now the dom­i­nant side of the city.

Win the Manch­ester derby on Sun­day and City will al­ready be 12 points clear of United just 12 games into the new sea­son, a gap that has grad­u­ally widened in each of the past three years.

The sea­son be­fore their ar­rival, only City’s su­pe­rior goal dif­fer­ence saw them pip United to fourth place in the Pre­mier League and Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

De­spite a dif­fi­cult first sea­son for Guardi­ola in English foot­ball, City fin­ished that cam­paign nine points ahead of their City ri­vals.

Last sea­son the gap jumped to a record 19 be­tween first and sec­ond place as City romped to the ti­tle with 100 points.

“There is a qual­ity of the work, of the or­gan­i­sa­tion, I think that is un­touch­able,” even Mour­inho ad­mit­ted on Fri­day. - Ev­ery vic­tory a strug­gle City cer­tainly seem un­touch­able at the mo­ment. Once again on top of the Pre­mier League, a goal dif­fer­ence of plus 29 to United’s plus one tells the story of both sides con­trast­ing for­tunes so far this sea­son.

United have at least shown some re­silience in re­cent weeks, com­ing from be­hind to beat New­cas­tle, Bournemouth and most im­pres­sively Ital­ian cham­pi­ons Ju­ven­tus in mid­week.

Yet, even then ev­ery vic­tory seems a strug­gle. Only twice have they won by more than one goal all sea­son, to City’s 12 mul­ti­ple-goal vic­to­ries.

But that in­cludes the last one when United came from 2-0 down to stun the Eti­had in a 3-2 vic­tory that robbed City of the ex­tra sat­is­fac­tion of seal­ing the ti­tle against their ri­vals.

“The point is can we im­prove enough to catch them next sea­son?” an op­ti­mistic Mour­inho said at the time.

Fast for­ward seven months and Mour­inho has turned on his su­pe­ri­ors at the club for his fail­ure to match City’s pro­gres­sion un­der Guardi­ola.

“To go to the Ju­ven­tus level? Barcelona level? Real Madrid level? Manch­ester City level? How can you reach this level” he com­plained af­ter los­ing the first of United’s dou­ble header with Juve.

“It’s not easy. We work with what we have.” Mour­inho’s ar­gu­ment is that he has not had the back­ing Guardi­ola has in the trans­fer mar­ket, de­spite United spend­ing more than the Abu Dhabibacked Pre­mier League cham­pi­ons this sum­mer.

Most of that went on Brazil­ian mid­fielder Fred, a player also cov­eted by City, but who has largely failed to make an im­pact.

The same can be said for Alexis Sanchez. United beat City to his sig­na­ture from Arse­nal in Jan­uary to much fan­fare at the time.

When leg­endary United man­ager Alex Fer­gu­son termed City the “noisy neigh­bours” over the sign­ing of Car­los Tevez, their spend­ing was cav­a­lier.

Since those deep pock­ets have been mar­ried with Guardi­ola’s coach­ing, City are get­ting much more bang for their buck.

“They are a small club with a small men­tal­ity. All they can talk about is Manch­ester United, that’s all they’ve done and they can’t get away from it,” said Fer­gu­son, an­gered at Tevez swap­ping sides of the Manch­ester di­vide.

There was a time with Fer­gu­son in charge when City fans went to der­bies more in hope than ex­pec­ta­tion. Guardi­ola has put the shoe on the other foot.

Klopp wres­tles with mid­field dilemma

As Jurgen Klopp tries to main­tain Liver­pool’s chal­lenge for the Pre­mier League ti­tle, the need to sort out his mid­field is be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly press­ing is­sue.

A home match against bot­tom club Ful­ham on Sun­day may just of­fer the op­por­tu­nity to start to put that right by giv­ing both Naby Keita and Fabinho cru­cial game time to build mo­men­tum and con­fi­dence.

Both play­ers were signed at great ex­pense dur­ing the sum­mer with a view to strength­en­ing Liver­pool’s mid­field op­tions.

Keita was seen as a re­place­ment for the at­tack­ing guile of Philippe Coutinho while Fabinho was viewed as the player to prove a de­fen­sive shield fol­low­ing Emre Can’s de­par­ture.

Nei­ther has yet man­aged to es­tab­lish them­selves as a pow­er­ful pres­ence in Eng­land, with Reds boss Klopp re­ly­ing largely on the play­ers used last sea­son.

Klopp has sug­gested both sign­ings need time to set­tle in a new coun­try, with Guinea in­ter­na­tional Keita ar­riv­ing from Ger­man club RB Leipzig, and Brazil­ian Fabinho join­ing from French Ligue 1 side Monaco.

While it is un­der­stand­able that nei­ther player would hit the ground run­ning, the need for them to find form has be­come more ur­gent, given the lack of cre­ative spark in Liver­pool’s mid­field.

Pep Guardi­ola also boasts an im­pres­sive record against Jose Mour­inho, los­ing just five of their 21 meet­ings.

Jose Mour­inho

Pep Guardi­ola

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