In the first meeting between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho in the Premier League, it was the Catalan super coach that drew first blood. For the first 40 minutes of the game at Old Trafford Pep and his team gave us a glimpse into the future of English football; demonstrating the complete embodiment of his football philosophy based around: possession of the ball, constant movement, incisive passing and relentless probing in attack and high tempo pressing to recover possession on those rare occasions that it is lost. City found themselves 2-0 up after 36 minutes with their equally expensively assembled cross-city rivals seemingly unable to get even the slightest foothold in the game. The almost inevitable goalkeeping clanger from Joe Hart’s replacement Claudio Bravo allowed United to pull one back and the changes at half-time, ingloriously hauling off the woeful duo of Mkhitaryan and Lingard replacing them with Rashford and Herrera at least allowed Mourinho’s side to make more of a fist of things in the second half.
Despite a false start to their Champions League campaign, a pre-match deluge forcing the postponement of their opening game by 24 hours, City carried on where they had left off in the Manchester derby, swatting aside Borussia Mönchengladbach 4-0 in another ominous looking performance. Perhaps the most frightening thing for United and indeed the rest of the Premier League is that Guardiola has only been working with these players for 5 or 6 weeks but already it looks like he might be moulding another side that could dominate at home and abroad. City’s result alongside Barca’s 7-0 demolition of Celtic has led many to suggest that Group C is already over.
Arsenal produced a mirror-image performance and result from their usual Champions League modus operandi, instead of managing to lose a game they should win; this time they got a result that their performance didn’t really justify, grabbing a draw away at PSG through a late equalizer by Alexis, although in truth Cavani’s awful finishing and some good saves from Ospina were the only reason they were still in the game at that point.
Tottenham lost their opening Champions League game which they had to play at Wembley due to capacity restrictions brought about by the redevelopment of White Hart Lane; they will be hoping desperately that playing at the National Stadium won’t continually serve to inspire visiting teams as it seemed to do when their North London rivals hosted Champions League games there in the late 90’s.
While many Leicester fans might feel slightly disappointed that their maiden Champions League adventure doesn’t yet include any of the glamour names of European football, their 3-0 win in Bruges will have more than suggested that they might start to dream about progression to the last 16 and possibly even beyond if they can top the group.
If Jose Mourinho was looking for a response from his players after the defeat in the Manchester derby in their Europa League trip to De Kuip on Thursday night, he was left frustrated once more. He will point to the 8 changes he made and as he stated in the post-match interview that some of his players were playing ‘their first minutes of the season’ compared to opposition who have, for the most part, played every game so far; yet a side containing players of the reputation and stature of De Gea, Smalling, Bailly, Herrera, Martial, Pogba etc, with Ibrahimovic on the bench, should have had more than enough to see off their infamously perennially cash-strapped opponents. Perhaps of even greater concern was that the United manager once again questioned the attitude of his players suggesting, ‘In the first half we did not have an especially ambitious attitude,’ while it is way too early to suggest that things are going wrong, after 2 straight defeats and what was in actual fact Mourinho’s 13th defeat in his last 31 games as manager; it is clear that they need a win at Watford on Sunday in order to (re)convince people that everything is very much on track.