Pressure on Jose Mourinho, not Pep Guardiola, in Manchester derby
The pressure is all on Jose Mourinho. After a 100 percent opening to the Premier League season, the Manchester United manager might have expected to go into the derby against Manchester City on Saturday on a high. Instead, his impact at Old Trafford has been overshadowed by Pep Guardiola's start at Manchester City.
Guardiola's tactics have produced spells in the opening three games where City have been spectacular. The use of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva as "False 8s" -- inside forwards with a licence to roam -- has given Guardiola's side a pleasing flexibility when pouring forward. In phases of the games against Stoke City and West Ham United, City looked like the type of team who could run away with the title.
There have been shorter periods, too, when their soft underbelly was visible. Mourinho will have noted this. The problem is, so far, United's performances still betray signs of a Louis van Gaal hangover as Mourinho continues to put his stamp on Old Trafford, a process that will take time.
Few imagined Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini would start the first three games of his tenure. It was more predictable that Wayne Rooney would be involved, but despite Mourinho's preseason assertion that the England captain would not play in midfield, the 30-year-old has reached the point in his career when he has to drift ever deeper in the quest to stay involved in the game.
United's midfield has been static and has lacked dynamism. Paul Pogba will eventually change that, but it has been surprising that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has made such a scant contribution. The Armenian has played less than an hour's football as a substitute in the first three matches and may miss the derby with an injury picked up on international duty. With Fellaini also in a race to get fit, United's midfield will have a mix-and-match feel about it once again.
Guardiola's system offers opponents a chance to exploit weaknesses. Using a front five of Sergio Aguero, Nolito, Raheem Sterling, De Bruyne and Silva means there can be gaps in the middle of the park. The manager's high pressing game also leaves space behind the back four. At his best, Mourinho would pick apart his rival's tactics and isolate the areas where his team could thrive. Anthony Martial has the pace and Zlatan Ibrahimovic the wit to expose the City back four, but United are less likely to take advantage in the midfield.
It is hard to imagine United taking the game to their neighbours. Mourinho does not have the players to outpass and outrun City. His best sides -- Chelsea in the 2000s, Inter Milan -- were disciplined, kept things tight and broke with real pace whenever they gained possession. The Portuguese's darker moments have come when he did not trust his players and became overcautious.
In his second spell at Chelsea three years ago, Mourinho took his side to Old Trafford early in the season and played for a 0-0 draw against a David Moyes team that offered very little threat. That result was psychologically worse than a defeat. If he gets it wrong against City, the ramifications may be even more significant.
The United manager's history with Guardiola makes this first derby a statement game. Like Sir Alex Ferguson before him, Mourinho defines himself by his feuds. He has had many enemies in his career -- Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez -- but the most compelling rivalry has been his struggles to overcome his Catalan nemesis. It reached a peak when Mourinho managed Real Madrid when Guardiola was at the helm of Barcelona, but the duelling could reach a new intensity in Manchester.
Like in the days of the Clasico showdowns, there is a clash of philosophies underpinning the dislike the two men share for each other. Guardiola is part of a wider plan to turn City into a sustainable global football power. He will be afforded as much time as it takes to rebuild the Etihad in his own image, an identity that dovetails perfectly with the ambitions of City's hierarchy.
Mourinho's situation is different. He is there to provide a quick fix. Ferguson famously described his role at Old Trafford 30 years ago as being to "knock Liverpool off their perch." The Portuguese has to find a way of putting United back on that perch, one that they abdicated with a series of bad decisions and two poor managerial appointments after Ferguson unexpectedly retired.
Some in the boardroom did not want Mourinho. They are still suspicious. At Old Trafford, everyone, including the manager, pays lip service to the club's heritage and maintaining the United ethos. It is reassuring talk, but the reality is Mourinho is there to win now. If he fails there will be no future to plan for and there is no wider vision to be aimed for than top-four Champions League qualification (at a minimum) and winning trophies. Guardiola has the luxury of planning for the long term.
The question marks hang over Mourinho, not Guardiola. He has to find answers and quickly. That's what he does best. It will not be easy to steal the spotlight from City's manager, one of the game's golden boys, but Mourinho will make sure his great rival has a difficult day at Old Trafford.
Jurgen Klopp should play it straight with Liverpool supporters
Jurgen Klopp, like many in football, hates the way money and huge transfer fees have taken over the game. The wide-eyed gushing that accompanied Premier League clubs spending more than £1.1 billion in the summer window was certainly unedifying. Some people appear more excited about transfer speculation and "marquee" buys that the actual football itself.
The Liverpool manager's response is disappointing, though. Explaining the club's net spend in the summer -- the second lowest in the division -- he called for trust. "If you really love this club then you need to believe in our way."
Leaving aside that someone who has been at a club less than a year can dictate what it is to "love" a club that many fans support as a birthright, the juxtaposition of the words "need" and "believe" suggests a faith-based approach is the only way to back a team. It is insulting and implies that supporters who make even realistic criticisms of a club are not real fans.
Invoking faith is more suitable to religion than a sport. You can imagine someone with Klopp's charisma, had he taken a different path, filling stadiums as a preacher. The difference is you don't have to wait until the afterlife for your reward (or lack of it) in football. Just the end of the season.
Offered a choice between faith and mammon in the Premier League, it's probably safer to trust the cash. Money talks and when it does, it's frequently more honest than managers.
Klopp gives great soundbites but a more straightforward "we didn't think the players we could attract without Champions League football were worth the fees and wages we would have to pay" would have been a better response.
That's the sort of policy and honesty that would really give the fans something they could believe in -- whether they liked it or not.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.