Unquestionably the Manchester rivalry had lost some of its bite in recent years with the two clubs under performing by their high standards. But that will certainly not be the case now with new incumbents Mourinho and Guardiola stepping into town and who look set to continue their almost personal battle which reached its heights in the battle to be the best team and coach in the world circa 2011.
For the years that the two managers were the head coaches at Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively El Classico was the center of the footballing universe with the two best clubs in the world from the best nation in the world, with the best two players in the world playing for the two best managers in the world. It was quite a time. There were some very memorable moments, none more so than those between the two managers. Their history goes back further than just their roles as the managers of the best two clubs in Spain. They had worked together at Barcelona were Mourinho was assisting Robson and then Van Gaal and Guardiola was carving his name out as one the key central midfielders in the world.
The side that Guardiola had built at Barcelona still has its spine intact such was the quality foundations he laid. 8 years after the team came and swept up all before them in such a dominant yet stylish manner the likes of Pique, Busquets, Ineista and Messi are still involved in winning La Liga and competing for the Champions League. Since moving on from Barca, his stint at Bayern will be judged of course for his lack of Champions League title but the same remnants of what brought success to Barcelona; sophisticated central midfielders, brave ball playing centre backs, use of false 9s, advanced full backs, promoted youngsters and tactical versatility all were on display if not at an even heightened level. As a result, Bayern were able to make retaining the Bundesliga look like child’s play but in fact they were so ruthless with their opponents both in the market and on the pitch that it was all set up for success in Europe. However, it didn’t come with semi final exits in all three years.
Interestingly, Pep did not spend on many big players though he did buy well to strengthen what was already a very strong side, (they had won the treble the season before he took charge) but this has not been the case at City. Quick action has been taken this summer with interesting quality signings being added to increase competition in what will likely bring about a lot of change and transition at the club in the next few windows. The added quality will be a wake up call to the many of the current players who will be made to prove their worth and show that they are capable of staying motivated and working hard throughout the season. Unfortunately, this basic need was not being met by many of the players and under performances had seen the club fail to retain the title following the two years they managed to win it.
With the battle to get into the first team underway in the background, steps are already underway to change the manner in which the team have been playing. The idea to have the team dominate possession and take a structured approach with the ball has been seen in their limited pre season friendlies thus far. It will be a challenge for some and will be less so for others but introducing such a particular strategy will take time to be fully grasped and mastered by the players. But City have a good teacher teaching them. Guardiola will know exactly what he is looking for and will get the best out of his resources within the season to make sure the players are understanding what is required of them.
Usually when a new manager arrives at the scene at one of the title rivals, the first port of call is to win the first trophy of the season, (including the Community Shield if they are participating in this) and that is the League Cup in February. Though not a competition associated with great prestige or difficulty to win, it remains the first prize available in what is a very competitive season. Securing the League Cup gives players, fans and even the manager the belief they need to ramp up their pursuit of the major honors of the Premier League and the Champions League in those last key remaining months of the season. It’ll be interesting to see the make up of the teams that Pep puts out in this tournament and how serious he views gaining a psychological advantage over this new (and old!) rivals.