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8 Dec 2017

SUNDAY DERBY: Jose Mourinho has spent a decade building to stop Pep Guardiola's tactics and Manchester United are ready

Back in Spain in 2011, when the rivalry between Jose Mourinhoand Pep Guardiola was at its height and the relationship between the two men at a low, there were a few senior Real Madrid players who were more than willing to come forward with their thoughts about the Portuguese’s approach.

They felt Mourinho had become so fixated on Barcelona and what they were doing that most of his management seemed to be geared towards finding a gameplan to just beating them, rather than something more holistic that would always allow this great Spanish club to play on their own terms.

Whether those arguments from the players were true or not, it is undeniably correct to say they have reflected and fired a wider debate about Mourinho’s methods, that have carried right through his career and to Old Trafford.

It is a debate that has revolved around issues like whether big clubs should play braver football, and even touched on the “morality” of how you set up, as well as what represents best practice in the modern game. Underscoring a lot of it right now - as United lie eight points behind Manchester City going into Saturday’s derby - is also whether Mourinho has truly maximised the available resources of a club of that size in the way Guardiola has greatly suggested he is.

It is all the more pointed because the big question for this match at Old Trafford is whether United can minimise the effects of City’s play… but all of that has a specific consequence for this game. It means Mourinho would for once be completely justified in playing as defensive a game as possible, in digging in and looking to counter as much possible - even at home, and even with United really requiring a win. It is just logic. Anything else could actually be to invite defeat, and maybe the deflating end to the title race as early as December.

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