The Big Match

Players outweigh grudge factor

Manchester United's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho (left) shouting on the touchline during the pre-season friendly football matchon July 16 and Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola (right) gesturing from the touchline on Aug 13.
Manchester United's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho (left) shouting on the touchline during the pre-season friendly football matchon July 16 and Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola (right) gesturing from the touchline on Aug 13. PHOTO: AFP

Managers Mourinho and Guardiola play down their own rivalry, compliment each other

LONDON • Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho yesterday played down the focus on his rivalry with Manchester City counterpart Pep Guardiola and said today's Manchester derby would be decided by the players.

The encounter at Old Trafford has been billed as a grudge match between Mourinho and Guardiola - who had several stormy encounters during their time in charge of Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.

It is three years since they last faced off in a match, but Mourinho said the on-pitch action will be more important than what happens on the touchline. Asked whether the presence of Guardiola in the opposition dugout presented a particular problem, Mourinho told journalists at United's Aon Training Complex: "Just the players."

Mourinho emphasised the need for "emotional control" in the match, which will see United and City attempt to end each other's perfect starts to the Premier League season.

When he was told the match was being cast as a rematch between himself and Guardiola, the Portuguese manager replied: "That's no problem."

He added: "They are a very good team. They were a very good team last season, two, three, four seasons ago. Maybe since the new owners arrived at Man City, it's a very good squad, it's a very good team.

WINE AFTER THE FINAL WHISTLE

I'll accept a glass of wine after the game if he invites me. I have said many times I have a lot of respect for him.

PEP GUARDIOLA, the Manchester City manager, says he will enjoy a drink with rival Jose Mourinho if the Manchester United boss extends an invitation.

GUESSING GAME

We try to reduce the unpredictability of the game. We know they have so many options. It feels a bit of a contradiction, but without Aguero it's more difficult.

JOSE MOURINHO on why the absence of suspended City striker Sergio Aguero will make his preparations much harder.

"They had very good managers. They have now a very good manager. They had always very good players. They bought some more very good players. So they are what they are since I returned to England in 2013. They're title contenders and we have to respect them that way."

United's hopes of winning have been aided by the absence of City striker Sergio Aguero, who is serving a three-game ban for elbowing West Ham United's Winston Reid.

But Mourinho claimed the uncertainty about who Guardiola will select to replace the Argentinian actually makes life harder for him.

"It changed the approach because it's more difficult," the United manager said. "When Aguero is available, we know Aguero plays. We know the formation, we know their dynamic.

"In this moment, he doesn't play. They are an amazing, rich squad in options. On the other hand, he (Guardiola) can have many decisions, different decisions.

"One thing if he decides to play with (Kelechi) Iheanacho, another thing if he decides to play with (Raheem) Sterling. Another one is if he decides to play with (David) Silva as a fake number nine. They have so many options that for us, in preparation of the game, we have to go step by step, situation after situation.

"We try to reduce the unpredictability of the game. We know they have so many options. It feels a bit of a contradiction, but without Aguero it's more difficult."

Guardiola, too, insisted yesterday that his rivalry with Mourinho will not boil over today.

"I'll accept a glass of wine after the game if he invites me," said the City manager. "I have said many times I have a lot of respect for him. I always try to learn from all my colleagues and opponents and I learn from him as well."

Guardiola will also encounter Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player the manager shipped out while at Barca.

The Swede made some less than complimentary remarks about Guardiola in his autobiography that have been widely quoted in recent weeks, but the manager said he always rated Ibrahimovic as a player.

"I have a lot of respect for Zlatan and what he has done in the football world and his career," the Spaniard said. "He has had a big impact everywhere he has been and he is an amazing talent, one of the best around."

City will give Claudio Bravo a debut in goal following his £17.8 million (S$32.05 million) move from Barca. But other new signings Ilkay Gundogan and Leroy Sane are unlikely to be risked and Vincent Kompany needs more time to recover from his injury.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

MAN UNITED V MAN CITY

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2016, with the headline 'Players outweigh grudge factor'. Print Edition | Subscribe