MANCHESTER — The defining moment of the soccer renaissance in Manchester arrived on Sunday.
[ MORE: Three things we learned ]
Manchester City won the battle, 2-1, and they’re clearly winning the war with Pep Guardiola not only leading a swashbuckling side towards the Premier League title at a canter, but also exposing the weaknesses of Manchester United and Jose Mourinho in the process.
“Park the bus, park the bus Man United! Playing football the Mourinho way!” was the chant from the City fans. They echoed the thoughts of those watching on across the globe.
Mourinho and Guardiola’s soccer ideologies are from different planets and City are currently in another world when it comes to their form in the Premier League following a record-breaking 14-straight win. Guardiola is running away with the head-to-head battle.
As expected, his old sparring partner didn’t take the defeat well as United lost for the first time at home in 24 Premier League games (their last defeat came against City last September) and also fell 11 points behind the Premier League leaders in the process.
Speaking to media outlets after the game, Mourinho admitted that United’s title hopes are “probably” over before hitting out at referee Michael Oliver about not awarding a penalty kick in the second half when Ander Herrera went down in the box and was booked for simulation.
“Manchester City are a very good team and they are protected by the luck, and the gods of football are behind them,” Mourinho told the BBC.
It was a case of clear deflection from Mourinho as Herrera clearly went down easily and was looking for the penalty kick.
After lambasting Man City for being lucky, Mourinho went into more depth in his press conference after the game about the decision to not award his team a penalty.
“It was like last season. Exactly the same,” Mourinho said. “We can speak about anything you want. You can bring any football theory, you can bring the stats, the possession, everything you want, but like last season it was a huge penalty in a crucial moment of the game. But I also say I feel sorry for Michael Oliver because I think he had a very good game with the intention to have the perfect work, which he almost did.”
Guardiola was having none of it.
City dominated possession, had 14 shots and were in total control of the game throughout. What did Guardiola make about Mourinho calling City “lucky” in their derby win?
“Last season was the same. We won because we were better in all departments. We were better,” Guardiola said. “I don’t know the plan for my opponent but we came here to try to win the game. We did it the same at Stamford Bridge and here again, on two big stages. At half time I said to my players, I am not going to talk about tactics, just the substitution. But we didn’t make any comments about the tactics… We came here like we did in Stamford Bridge and all the games since I came here, to try to win. I’m so happy. The people say in England you can’t play in that way in England, but we can play in that way as well.”
After his first full season in the Premier League in 2016-17, many scoffed at Guardiola, the soccer idealist who had been proved wrong with his supposed arrogance that he could blow the English top-flight apart playing champagne soccer. Yes, he’s been handed a huge amount of cash to overhaul his squad, but Mourinho hasn’t been short of funds at United either.
Both have improved their respective clubs dramatically over the past 18 months but Guardiola seems to be building something more sustainable and impressive than Mourinho.
As for this encounter, where United hung in there but never truly looked like beating City, did Mourinho feel his rivals dominated the 175th Manchester derby?
“It depends on how you analyze it,” Mourinho said. “It depends on what we want to let them do. But I think when you see Man City play you expect Man City to score great goals, not to score two disgraceful goals. Those are the last goals you expect to concede against a top quality team. Two very bad goals with one corner and one free kick with rebounds. Incredibly unlucky from the defending perspective. Yes, they had much more of the ball. Yes, they had that apparent control of the game, but the biggest save of the game is the double save by their goalkeeper and the biggest decision of the game is an unlucky decision of Michael [Oliver].”
Can United claw back the deficit?
“It is a significant distance,” Mourinho said. “I don’t know. I know we can win next Wednesday. Win, or lose, or draw. I know that we can win next Wednesday and we are going to work and fight for it, match after match, and every match we are going to give everything with our qualities, with our problems, that is what we do all the time.”
The only problem is, Sunday proved that Manchester City’s quality is far superior to Manchester United in all departments and there’s little Mourinho can do about it.
Just like in his Real Madrid days, he is being dominated by Guardiola who is, once again, managing a bitter rival.
The Special One is seething as he looks on enviously across Manchester with Guardiola’s brand of play revered across the globe while his is ridiculed by opposition fans and neutrals alike.
Nothing will get under Mourinho’s skin more.