Sunday, 24 July 2016

MATCH PREVIEW: Man Utd vs Man City

The two men have played down their often argument rivalry since arriving in Manchester and so far in China but they are uder the same spotlight once again in Beijing on Monday.

Jose Mourinho's hastily re-arranged press conference ahead of Manchester United's clash with Manchester City in Beijing will serve as a reminder of his new club's enduring popularity.

Around one hundred media representatives had packed a cramped room in the Olympic Sports Centre - which was itself only utilised as a back-up option due to the sorry state of the pitch at the nearby Bird's Nest Stadium - resulting in United media staff deciding to move the media briefing outside. It was too busy and too hot. Ultimately, too popular.

Pep Guardiola will not care that his earlier conference was attended by a smaller number of media. He was not fazed by the pulling of Real Madrid during his time at Barcelona, either, and ultimately these things do not matter.

But it goes to show that these two old foes will be thrown into the same spotlight sooner than they would have anticipated, and perhaps liked.

Whether Mourinho and Guardiola are delighted at the prospect of facing each other so early in their respective new jobs is not entirely certain, but the chance for their teams to meet an opponent on a level footing will surely be welcome.

For both United and City, who meet in the International Champions Cup in Beijing on Monday, it is an opportunity at least to get a good idea of where exactly they stand with less than three weeks to go until the Premier League begins again.

United strolled past Wigan in their first friendly of the summer but were soundly thrashed by Borussia Dortmund on Friday.

Much was made of the fact Dortmund had already played four friendlies by the time they faced United, meaning they could dig far deeper into their fitness reserves in the sapping Shanghai heat.

But the German side have been playing attractive, successful football for years now, and they looked like a team that knew exactly what they needed to do and how they needed to do it. Collectively and individually they were pitch perfect. It is no surprise United had no answer.

Over the last two years Louis van Gaal had employed a philosophy which rejected those ideals. Most of the players on the pitch on Friday have become accustomed to a slow, predictable possession game.

Mourinho needs time to change that way of thinking and facing Dortmund was a timely reminder of the job he has on his hands, even if a number of important players - such as Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling and Anthony Martial - were absent.

The opportunity to face Guardiola's men, then, might just come at the right time, even if concerns about the soggy pitch has dampened enthusiasm at both clubs.

City themselves have played just one friendly this summer as they look to adopt the approach of their new manager. Blues players have raved about the Catalan's intensity, which, combined with his commitment to attacking football, is expected to drastically improve on the often lethargic performances of last season.

Bayern Munich provided the opposition for Guardiola's first game in charge, which was always going to be an interesting bellwether even if it was also likely to end in defeat. Bayern's players are still indoctrinated in the Pep way, while City's are just three weeks down the line. The boss himself has cautiously warned that he will need time to get the best out of his new squad, and three weeks is certainly not what he had in mind.

Mourinho scoffed at the idea of analysing Dortmund's approach in the build-up to Friday's game, while Guardiola said on Sunday that he has only seen a bit of United so far. At this stage, victory is not important. Even in a derby, the first to be held outside England.

It is a chance for the great Manchester rivals to learn a bit more about themselves, as well as a little about each other.

Despite Leicester City's brilliant title win last season there is a feelilng that they will not be able to repeat the feat, with the traditional Premier League title rivals in a race to get back to where they believe they should be.

Both Mourinho and Guardiola have been hired to put their respective clubs back at the top of the tree. There is a school of thought that suggests one was hired as a direct result of the other. Given their pedrigree, not to mention the amounts of money dedicated to their projects, both Manchester clubs can be expected to put up more of a fight than they have managed in recent years.

Guardiola has been at pains to play down his infamous rivalry with Mourinho so far - "It’s a friendly game. A really friendly game", Pep has said of this clash - and even the Portuguese appears to have no appetite to get back into the mind games. But it is easy to say so when the pressure is off.

After a couple of years on the fringes, Manchester football is resurgent. There is a long way to go yet - both on the training pitch and in the transfer window - but Guardiola and Mourinho can expect to be the centre of attention, and in China they will have been reminded of that fact relentlesly.

They will both get a taste of things to come in Beijing on Monday.

Source: Goal Comment.