MANCHESTER, England — Pep Guardiola answered the question with little more than a gesture. Now that his first Manchester derby meeting with Jose Mourinho was done, would he — as he had promised before the match, if invited — join his counterpart for a drink and a friendly rumination over what had passed?
Easy, now. Guardiola raised his bottle of mineral water slightly, indicating with a faint smile that he had his beverage of choice, before explaining that the extent of his postmatch media commitments made socialising impossible.
Perhaps a friendly glass of wine between the two managers would have been too much of a happy-families ending to the afternoon, but it had not been a day for too much scrutiny of the dugout.
There was enough to scrutinize in the managers’ deployment of those on the pitch, all of which had resulted in one inalienable fact: Mourinho has now defeated his rival in just three of their 16 meetings.
It was not hard to see how this latest reverse had come about and Mourinho’s vision was particularly clear. There was plenty of censure to go around and most of it was reserved for his players who, he said, failed to carry out prematch instructions during a first half in which, until Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 42nd-minute intervention, the hosts hardly laid a glove on their opponents.
“I told them at half-time that some of them were doing exactly what I told them not to do,” said Mourinho, who said he was been tempted to make substitutions as early as the 20th minute. “I had told them never to play a first-station ball [a short pass between midfield and defence] — it’s where City want to press — but they did it 20 times. I think some of the boys felt the dimension of the game, everything around it, the derby, the focus, the attention. Maybe in the next big game I know who can accept that well; it’s very important.”
Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard, who had both been brought into the United starting lineup, were those sacrificed at the interval and the former, in particular, had felt Mourinho’s voice ringing loudly in his ears during an error-strewn first half.
“I made a couple of decisions where I thought the individual qualities of certain players would give me what I know I want, and I didn’t get it,” Mourinho said.
The implication was obvious, although he was quick to stress that the entire team was culpable for a lumpen first-half performance that did not take much bettering in the second period. Paul Pogba was as ineffective as anyone, but United did make better use of their record signing’s physique, and that of Marouane Fellaini, later on.
Even if Mourinho’s assertion seemed generous that United would not have deserved to lose on the basis of the second 45 minutes — City still created the clearer, better-crafted chances — he had a point when upbraiding the referee, Mark Clattenburg, for what seemed a clear penalty and red card when Claudio Bravo ploughed into Wayne Rooney 11 minutes after the interval.
Mourinho also sought another spot kick for an apparent Nicolas Otamendi handball, but the Bravo incident seemed clear-cut: “[They were penalties] because I know the rules of the game. You want me to say what you know is true, but it has more credibility if the words come from you than the manager that lost the game.”
If Mourinho was frustrated, Guardiola could afford to be more indulgent. There had been no need for a scrambling attempt at recovery from his team, who outmanoeuvred their hosts thrillingly before the break and, by contrast to their opponents, heeded their manager’s instructions.
Guardiola was pleased City had not been drawn into aerial battles with Fellaini and Pogba — although that became less of an option when the pair pushed up later on — and that they had been imperious when contesting the second ball instead. Fernando, Guardiola said, had been the key man in helping to win those battles after his second-half introduction.
It had been a job well done and one very much in the image of the Spaniard’s best sides, but there was an elephant in the room to address. After playing a direct part in Ibrahimovic’s goal by fumbling a Wayne Rooney free kick, debutant Bravo’s performance went into meltdown and there was considerable fortune that United did not capitalise on his total loss of composure.
Guardiola, though, praised his new signing at length: “[The goal] was not a mistake because he attacked the ball and I love when goalkeepers leave [their line] to go 10 or 15 yards out. But sometimes when that happens maybe a player can think ‘oh, it’s my fault’. Instead Claudio said ‘OK, it’s football, it’s happened, we were unlucky’, and in the second half he played again, again, again with the ball. I know it’s a risk, but when we win with that, we win many, many things.”
Guardiola was being generous but it was as much an explanation of the uncompromising faith he holds in his own philosophy as a defence of the specific aspects of Bravo’s performance.
Indeed, by way of some mitigation, the otherwise route-one move for Kevin De Bruyne’s opener had come from a short pass by Bravo to Aleksandar Kolarov when the pair were under moderate pressure.
Together, the managers’ postmatch news conferences lasted half an hour and the amount of football dissected — rather than personality assessment — was a welcome shift from the previous focus on those in charge.
Both had tried gamely to shift the focus onto the pitch with their utterances in the preceding days but, whether or not there has been a degree of conciliation behind closed doors, that was never going to be entirely successful; Guardiola’s walk along the touchline before kickoff — a minute or so after Mourinho’s arrival — was a gift for the throng of waiting photographers.
They were duly given their picture, even if it was not the one they might have expected. As Guardiola proceeded to a chorus of pantomime boos from the home crowd, Mourinho held out his hand and the pair embraced.
There was a similarly cordial exchange at full-time, and even if they are not yet quite up to sharing a glass of wine, there is a suggestion that the soap opera surrounding their past feud might have moved on.
“I respect [Mourinho] a lot,” Guardiola said afterward. “In the future I’m going to beat him; in the future he’s going to beat me. Sometimes we might not agree but it’s part of the game. Hopefully the next time we play against United, people will start forgetting to ask about our relations.”
If the Manchester neighbours serve up any more clashes as fraught, feisty and compelling as this one, that might not be such an outlandish wish.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.