Long haul for Jose, Pep
THEY say revenge is a dish best served cold, but even on a chilly night in Manchester, this 1-0 EFL Cup win felt rather lukewarm. Jose Mourinho and Manchester United were not quibbling though: they needed a win – any sort of win – and it did come with a side order of local bragging rights.
He wanted it more than Pep, United wanted it more than City. After the catastrophe at Stamford Bridge, he said it was now a task for “men, not kids” and, fortunately for him, Guardiola selected more kids. Indeed, the line-ups reflected the respective needs of the managers and Mourinho’s was that much greater.
Lose here and the headlines would be unreadable, the paparazzi insufferable and his lonely life of five-star luxury would have become even more friendless and forlorn. He admitted he had picked a stronger side than intended because of the loss to Chelsea and, even if it doesn’t square the pasting they took in the league derby, he will now be hoping a corner has been turned.
As for Pep, he could have done with a win too, but even six games without one, the worst run of his career, the worst City run since December 2008 and not a single shot on target still doesn’t add up to a crisis when you are top of the league. It will have increased the doubts though.
The Jose-Pep show was always going to dominate the back pages, but not in the way it’s panning out. City and United were so heavily fancied at the start of the season you’d have thought it was a twohorse title race, but now City are 11-8 and United 20-1.
If the bookies have more faith in the Catalan than the Portuguese, it’s looking as if both were a tad over-hyped. Such were pre-season expectation levels that you wondered if the pair wafted magic wands in Midas-like hands. Yes, they have worked miracles in the past, but that was when they had the players.
Their current squads, even with a combined £300 million spent in the summer, are not fit to lace the sangria of the likes of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi or, at a less exalted level in Mourinho’s case, the Drogbas, Terrys and Lampards in their Chelsea prime.
The truth is that they both now face far bigger challenges than anyone realised. And the competition – Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea – has become stronger. Guardiola did seem to cotton on sooner as even during City’s 10-game winning run, he insisted his was a work in progress and has since claimed it would take “decades” to emulate Barcelona.
Mourinho, on the other hand, declared himself “satisfied” with the business done in the summer that saw just four new players come in. Three months on, the lone success is out for two months, one is a mega flop, another fading fast and the other a complete mystery.
Identities will be provided on request but however the situation is dressed up, he is short of quality players. And he must be thankful he held off when he looked about to shove Juan Mata through the exit door.
Zlatan is looking his age and you wonder how long Mourinho he is going to keep him in the side and resist the temptation to let Marcus Rashford lead the line. The youngster again demonstrated his searing pace and quality against City and appears wasted on the wing.
But from the sounds of it, he is the only “kid” likely to be thrown in despite Timothy Fosu-Mensah demonstrating similar precocity in his fleeting appearances in defence. Whisper it, but not near a pitch-side microphone, this department is not as sound as it was under LVG.
Overall, Guardiola looks to have the stronger squad by the width of the Manchester Ship Canal even if his own youngsters are not quite as outstanding as Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho shakes hands with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola after their EFL Cup Fourth Round match at Old Trafford in Manchester yesterday. the afore-mentioned United duo. The worry for Pep is that the big names are not what they were either.
Under Roberto Mancini, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero were as good as anyone outside of the Ronaldo/Messi/Suarez/ Neymar pantheon but all are at varying stages of decline and their replacements do not look up to it.
Of that City quartet, only Silva is sure of his place when fit and, with the possible exception of Gabriel Jesus, who is not coming till January, none of the youngsters look like world-beaters. There is, in short, a dearth of talent for him to plunder.
Thinking of Pep, the sad death of Carlos Alberto reminded us of how to bring a ball out of defence. Just watch the build-up to his famous goal in the 1970 World Cup final and Clodoaldo’s dribble in particular. Then think of John Stones.
In the immediate future, the City boss has his work cut out to reach the knock-out phase of the Champions League with Barcelona the visitors next week while Jose has an even bigger job to make the top four.
But the good news is that, unless persuaded to quit by the paparazzi or their own itchy feet, the Jose-Pep show should run and run. Indeed, on the evidence of a tepid derby, to reach the heights expected of them they must stick around for the long haul: Jose should check out of his hotel and buy a house while Pep may have to stay “for decades”.