Wednesday, 26 April 2017

High stakes derby: First season failure

Fighting for fourth place in the league table is not what Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are accustomed to.

The two men renew their rivalry at the Etihad on Thursday with Champions League qualification at stake, not silverware.

City won the first meeting between the pair at Old Trafford in September, a 2-1 success that put them top of the table.

That was the last time that either Manchester club was in that position.

Qualification for the Champions League is what will define Guardiola and Mourinho's first season at their new clubs.
A season without a trophy is in itself an alien concept for Guardiola but missing out on a top four finish would be even worse. 

With what both clubs have, and where they want to get to, it would be an abject failure should they fail to do so. 

It highlights how competitive the Premier League is that - even with the embarrassment of riches that both have - two of the best managers in the world are scrapping for fourth. 

If United win on Thursday, we'll break into the top four for the first time since September.
City, meanwhile, will drop out for the first time since 12 February.

On a 23-match unbeaten run, three successive league wins have changed the landscape for United and Mourinho.

The boss took stock of our situation at the start of April and admitted that winning the Europa League was our best chance of getting into the Champions League.

It's now very possible we could win that tournament and also qualify through league position. 

We've already won the League Cup so - should we go on to win the Europa League - would have two trophies and a top four finish.

That has to go down as a successful season in his first campaign at the helm.

On the other hand a fifth placed finish and not winning the Europa League would have to be considered a failure, despite the EFL Cup success.

Mourinho's unpredictability gives him and the team the slight edge in this one-off derby - we've seen both sides of his tactical blueprint in other big games.

There was the disciplined, ultra-defensive approach we saw at Anfield in the 0-0 draw in October.
Then we saw the polar opposite against Chelsea when we had a go at them and blew them away with constant harrying and high press.

It will be fascinating to see how Jose nullifies City's talented attack at the Etihad. 

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