When Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were managing rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, there was an air of uneasiness in La Liga. Both coaches did not see eye to eye and were constantly seeking to put one over the other in their interviews and conferences. Both coaches used the best of their tactical knowledge on the pitch (and to a great extent off it). Their players were inspired too. Brawls that could have been stopped were encouraged pouring further fuel to the fire.
As time passed, both managers initially explored divergent paths but once again they found themselves in direct compeition... at the helm of the Manchester clubs - City and United. Everyone in the media was excited to see the same rivalry whilst expecting similar fireworks in press conferences. It never happened. Pep's Citizens were far too strong. The football they played was far superior and Mourinho knew it. Mourinho blamed the board for not being as generous and helpful as the Sheikhs were to Pep pointing at the lack of funds for transfers. It was another diversion. Mourinho had spent considerable amounts of money to get his defense sorted but the players he bought never performed to the levels expected of them.
Now in charge of Tottenham, Mourinho seems rejuvenated and hungry for the battle. Whilst funds are even more scarce than they were at United, the playing squad seems stronger - well built under the shrewd tenure of Mauricio Pochettino and he senses that the main giants of the Premier League, Liverpool and City seem to have taken pause for breath - with their respective performance levels a few rungs below what they were capable of in the preceding seasons. Amidst the chaos of the Covid pandemic, Mourinho's more meat and potatoes football seems more relevant and effective with the ability to create sustainable training programmes which emphasise pressing, positional and possessional precision proving to be impossible with the sheer amount of games being squeezed into the calender.
News coming in that Pep Guardiola has signed a new contract looks like a step in the right direction. It is a breath of fresh air and will surely stop the speculations and interests from other clubs. For now. The Citizens can now focus primarily on their performances on the pitch and with a game in hand they can crawl back up with a good run of wins. They sky is once again looking blue for Manchester City.
The rather more considered and methodical approach that we have witnessed from Pep has been partially due to a lack of pre-season and injuries. They have gradually shown improvement in terms of their cohesion and tempo but finishing games still remains a problem. A lack of a natural finisher up top has been key but fitness levels in general have not been top notch either. With time, the Citizens will drag themselves up into contention but for now it is vital they remain consistent and do not fall too far behind the chasing pack.
Taking control of matches is a necessity when it comes to Pep Guardiola and his players. With top players coming to full fitness it will be easier for the coach to pick his best eleven. One interesting tactic that has been repeated this season is the use of two anchormen. Ever since the departure of David Silva, Pep has started matches with two pivots which would be either a combination of Rodri and Fernandinho or Rodri and Gundogan. The latter has shown to be more effective in recent matches.
The Citizens have also been using variations to their pressing system. The first press is sometimes neglected for the opposition to play a few passes before the ball recovery process is initiated. in recent games, Pep's team has pressed on the 3rd and 4th opponent passes with relatively favorable outcomes. Getting clean sheets in the last few matches both in Europe and Premier League will definitely boost their confidence. It seems like their defensive short comings have been resolved and they are near the top of the league in terms of goals conceded and expected goals against (9 GC v 8.5 XGA).
Upfront, Pep looks to have worked on a few of his players, most notably Ferran Torres, who looks like a real bargain. His versatility has given the Citizens a much needed new dimension and with Gabriel Jesus coming back to full fitness, it will be interesting to see how Pep plays his front three. De Bruyne has been their main playmaker but Bernardo Silva is also slowly staking a claim n the middle of the park which suggests that we will soon be finding out who Pep's favored three in the middle will be. There is every chance the coach will try to move to a single pivot in the midfield to allow for more controlled attacking by his team.
When Daniel Levy sacked Mauricio Pochettino, it was considered an unforgivable crime by media and fans alike. Pochettino had given club recognition, the players life, the fans entertainment, and the Premier League a contender. Despite their fall from grace in his last season, fans still believe there was no reason why Pochetiino should not have been given a chance to rebuild another great team. What was difficult to understand was that hiring of Jose Mourinho. Of course a proven winner at the big stage, the Portuguese coach has a reputation of working with rich clubs and buying expensive players for his quick rebuild and subsequent championship challenging teams. Mourinho himself came with a kind of damaged reputation that needed amends. His stint at Manchester United had not only been unsuccessful but it had left a bitter taste with the board and players alike. Needless to say, it was a huge risk to take by Daniel Levy was operating on thin ice.
Mourinho loves playing counter attack. His teams tend to contain the opposition, soak up pressure and hit them back on a lethal counter attack, Spurs have the players to do exactly that. With Son growing to become a world class talent, Lucas Moura being ever reliable and Kane scoring goals and setting up team mates for the same, this Spurs side looks like they are a finally having fun again. There have been some key differences to Mourinho's previous teams as well. Spurs can keep possession and play intricate passes in tight spaces whilst also be physically strong enough to make sure the opposition can be stopped in key areas of the pitch. In this respect, they are more reminscent of his Inter and Chelsea sides rather than his United side.
The addition of Reguilon and the return of Gareth Bale have been welcome additions to the squad. But an underrated acquisition has been Hojberg in the anchorman role who provides the foundation upon which can add to by gambling between using Ndombele or Lo Celso in the playmaker role. Both have performed great in matches and look set to compete for the glamour role. Ndombele looks to be in same mold as Mousa Dembele and his movement and intelligent passing have been noteworthy. Lo Celso has the grit yet necessary skill set to dribble past opposition players and the vision to pick a defense splitting pass. His recent performances for Argentina where he grabbed himself an assist in both matches will only help him grow in confidence further. Lo Celso will gradually be the go to man for Mourinho.
Spurs are on a good run of form and critics have been favoring them in this match alone. But City have been growing of late. Their performances have improved a great deal and the recent draw with Liverpool (which they could have won had De Bruyne not missed that penalty) will have them confidently wanting more. There are signs from both sides that this could go either way. Much will depend on the substitutions made by their respective coaches as both sides have enough fire power on the bench to change the outcome of games. Mourinho will probably leave it till the last moment to see if Lo Celso is fit to start (he might opt for NDombele) whilst Pep might produce a surprise upfront with Ferran, and Gabriel Jesus. We can expect the Citizens to have the lions share of possession whilst Spurs focus themselves on countering their opponents.
One of the key players for City will be Kyle Walker. Despite a great start to the season he once again proved how unreliable he can be in big moments with a shocking display against Sadio Mane. On paper whilst he should be a good tactical fit against Son, history tends to suggest he has an error in him and this battle will be key as Spurs will need the South Korean at his best if they are to post a threat in this game. With space at a premium, Kane is more likely to find it difficult to get on the scoresheet but his creative influence cannot be understimated.
The midfield battle will also be very intriguing. Usually you would expect a Pep side to absolutely dominate the midfield battle but this season their midfield play has been lacklustre. It is a far cry from the slick operation of Fernandinho behind Silva and KDB (in his physical prime). On the other hand the more conservative approach by City might favour them as it will mean less holes in which they can exploit on the counter attack and through the middle... thus forcing the likes of Son to hug the touchline more rather than drift inwards in support of Kane.
Tottenham Hotspurs H. lloris,, E. Dier, T. Alderweireld, S. Reguilon, M. Doherty, P. Hojberg, M. Sissoko, NDombele, L. Moura, Son, H. Kane (Formation: 4-2-1-3)
Manchester City: E. Moraes, E. Laporte, R. Dias, Kyle Walker, Zinchenko, Rodri, K. De Bruyne, Gundogan, G. Jesus, R. Mahrez, Ferran Torres (Formation: 4-3-3/3-4-3).
Predicted Outcome: A 2-4 win for Citizens.