Manchester United and Manchester City landed two of the biggest managers in the game this summer. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola will resume their battle in the Premier League and ESPN FC is keeping a close eye on them.
Our correspondents Arindam Rej (United) and Jonathan Smith (City) update on how the pair have settled in England.
How have they started the season?
JS: Guardiola’s perfect start has been halted by two results in the past week but it’s still been an impressive beginning to life in England. The Catalan won his first six Premier League games, including a brilliant performance in the 2-1 Manchester derby victory that stunned Old Trafford, before Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to Spurs.
Meanwhile, in Europe, City easily overcame a potentially awkward playoff with Steaua Bucharest before thumping Borussia Monchengladbach 4-0 in their group stage opener — a side that Guardiola’s Bayern Munich failed to beat last season — then drew 3-3 with Celtic. There has been a reality check, but Guardiola will be delighted with his start — particularly when compared to how other new managers are still trying to find their feet.
AR: Talk of a title push was rife when Manchester United won the Community Shield then reeled off three successive Premier League victories. But they were brought crashing down to earth in the derby defeat against City and there was a hangover from that, as it was the first of a sorry sequence of three successive defeats in all competitions.
United looked back on track when thrashing Leicester 4-1, but a 1-1 draw against Stoke was another frustration ahead of the international break. Despite the dips there has been encouragement regarding the quicker, more positive style under Mourinho.
What do the stats tell us?
JS: Goals aren’t going to be an issue for City: they have 33 from their first 12 games at just shy of three per game. Conceding goals, however, has been a problem with just one clean sheet in the Premier League and 11 goals against in all competitions, which is one more than newly promoted Burnley.
Guardiola has also made an impact on key players — most noticeably Raheem Sterling, who was voted the Premier League player of the month for August. The England forward has five goals and six assists from 10 appearances this season, which compares to 11 goals and 10 assists for the whole of last season. Sergio Aguero is another who has started well with 11 goals from eight appearances, although he drew a blank in the games against Celtic and Spurs.
AR: United’s 13 points from seven league games is not that impressive considering they are the most expensive squad of players ever assembled. United have three fewer points than their total at this stage last season under former manager Louis van Gaal.
They are the division’s fourth-highest scorers with 13 goals, but only the seventh best defence after conceding eight — unlike last season when the defence stats were more impressive, showing how the style has changed under Mourinho. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has started life in the Premier League well and is the top scorer with six goals in all competitions.
How have they managed their players?
JS: Guardiola was ruthless in shaping his squad into what he wants and the players have shown they are committed to his philosophy. In preseason, he demanded that his players were in top shape, which resulted in an overweight Samir Nasri training away from the first team until he was at full fitness.
England goalkeeper and fans’ favourite Joe Hart was dropped and then loaned out to Serie A side Torino because he didn’t have the ball-playing skills he wanted from his No. 1, with Claudio Bravo signed from Barcelona. While midfielder Yaya Toure has been made an example for criticising the manager and will not be considered for the first team until he apologises.
Others have revelled in the freedom on the pitch with players such as Sterling, Aleksandar Kolarov and Jesus Navas rejuvenated under the new manager.
AR: Mourinho seemed to have generated much goodwill with a positive approach in the early days of his tenure, but he chose to publicly criticise several of his players during the run of three successive defeats, which was heavy-handed. What made that approach more risky was that a couple of those players appeared to have been playing despite struggling with their fitness.
Mourinho, though, has been far more sensitive with his handling of Wayne Rooney, repeatedly stressing the captain’s value, even when leaving him out. He clearly does not want to alienate such a powerful dressing room presence.
How have they handled the press?
JS: Guardiola claims not to be comfortable in the setting and said he was afraid of the media at his first news conference. But he does himself a disservice as his charisma and honesty often make his briefings fascinating and insightful. Postmatch, he has refused to criticise officials over decisions and has shied away from any controversy — making little comment on incidents such as Aguero’s elbow on West Ham’s Winston Reid before and after the Argentine was handed a three-match ban.
Along with Mourinho, he was the main focus ahead of the derby in September but shut down any suggestions of animosity and steered all talk back onto the action. Occasionally he has been asked by some Spanish media what his opinion is on a particular issue outside of the club, but has simply given the one-word reply: “Nada” (nothing.) His only tetchy moment with the English press so far was his X-rated response after being asked about competing for all four trophies.
AR: Mourinho was an uplifting, charming figure in the early stages, but showed his uglier, combative side when United lost their form. That was when he started questioning criticism and making sarcastic comments, calling people “Einsteins.”
The United manager does still sweet-talk influential journalists when he wants a favour, referring to one as a “top journalist in the country” in a postmatch news conference, when asking him to make judgements about referee Mark Clattenburg’s decision-making in the derby defeat. Whatever his mood, Mourinho still retains the ability to produce eye-catching quotes and make smart observations.
What can they improve on?
JS: City’s problems have come against high-tempo sides determined to hassle Guardiola’s side out of their gameplan to maintain possession. Tottenham were particularly effective at it and instead of keeping a high line, which is what the City boss wants, his side were forced to keep the ball too deep into their own half. Without time or space, City were forced into making too many errors. Guardiola won’t bend on his principles and City are still getting to grips with the tactic but the Catalan will keep pushing his players until they have mastered it — even if it takes another two seasons to perfect.
AR: Mourinho needs to find the sort of consistent team selection and shape that were a feature of some previous successes he had in his managerial career. At the moment, it still looks like he does not quite know his best XI and in which formation to play them. More care needs to be taken with handling injured players too, so there is no repeat of Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s situation, as he was rushed back then injured again. The United manager would also receive more respect if he does not turn referees and individual players into easy scapegoats.