Long haul for Jose, Pep

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

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”.


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