Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will be desperate for a positive result in Thursday’s Manchester derby. The Spaniard has endured a mixed season at the Etihad Stadium and is left fighting for a top four finish. In Jose Mourinho, an old foe stands in his way.
The Portuguese boss has himself suffered a hard time during his first campaign in Manchester. The fact that he has won a trophy, having claimed the EFL Cup in February, has distorted the problems he has faced Winning the Europa League would arguably do something similar.
United demand a return to the Champions League, though, and a derby win would move them a damn sight closer to meeting that objective via league qualification. To do so by winning the Europa League would be a touch demeaning for a club that still considers itself “The Biggest Club In The World.” It might be argued that United hold an advantage for this fixture because of their Europa League journey this season. That venture has allowed them to become accustomed to Thursday night football; the Blues are far less familiar with that territory.
For City, the game provides a chance to salvage something from a season now guaranteed to end without a trophy. It’s the first time that Guardiola has suffered this fate in his eight years of management at senior level. This fact has added fuel to the fire for the naysayers who would have you believe that Guardiola is not a truly great coach; that somehow, in the pressure cauldrons of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, he has had it easy in his career pre-Manchester.
Guardiola’s team must bounce back from the FA Cup semi-final defeat they suffered at the hands of Arsenal on Sunday. Failure to qualify for the Champions League would only serve as proof to some that the Premier League has defeated one of the world’s greatest coaches. Clearly though, there is more than just the reputation of the boss on the line here.
Failure to compete amongst Europe’s elite clubs next season would be a significant step backwards for City. A full scale review would be undertaken and it would surely be Txiki Begiristain, the Blues’ Director of Football, facing the sternest questions. His overseeing of the transfer policy has resulted in poor business since 2012 and City are suffering. His end-of-season review should have him squirming in his chair, regardless of where the team finishes in the league.
The fact is that City can afford to lose this game and still have a top four finish in their own hands. Whilst the maths might allow a margin of error in the run-in, the supporters won’t. Since Roberto Mancini vacated the dugout, City’s big-game record has been atrocious. Defeats in key games against United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham have come and gone with alarming regularity – another one on Thursday will be met with dismay.
Guardiola’s men do have an impressive win at Old Trafford on their record for the season. The Spaniard’s head-to-head record against Mourinho is also extremely favourable.
Guardiola can more than match Mourinho tactically. He has one last shot at instilling a big-game-mentality into these players before the summer overhaul begins. A win will leave City in an extremely strong position to achieve the bare-minimum they can accept for the season. Defeat against their most hated rivals could launch an end of season crisis. We can only hope for the former on Thursday.