José Mourinho refuses to light fuse on Pep Guardiola rivalry

Manchester United manager praises City as he says match is all about the players

 Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho shake hands before  the Champions League semi-final first leg between Barcelona and Real Madrid in 2011. Photograph: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho shake hands before the Champions League semi-final first leg between Barcelona and Real Madrid in 2011. Photograph: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

 

José Mourinho has attempted to play down his rivalry with Pep Guardiola by saying the Manchester derby is about the players and not him and his managerial counterpart.

Mourinho’s United host Guardiola’s City at Old Trafford in Saturday’s early kick-off for what is the two managers’ first meeting since August 2013.

That game, the Uefa Super Cup final in which Guardiola’s Bayern Munich defeated Mourinho’s Chelsea on penalties, was the last episode in a long-running enmity. Ramires was sent off in the match and afterwards Mourinho complained. “Every time I play Pep I end up with 10 men. It must be some sort of Uefa rule,” he said.

However Mourinho tried to dismiss any further clash with Guardiola today. Asked about his opposite number, the coach said: “It’s a problem? You don’t need my answer.”

Pushed that there is a widespread fascination with their relationship, the Portuguese said: “I don’t care about everyone else. [It’s about] players, just the players. They are a very good team. They were a very good team last season, two and three seasons ago, four seasons ago. Maybe since the new owners arrived at Manchester City [in September 2008] it’s a very good squad and team.

Title contender

“They have had very good managers. They have now a good manager. They have bought some very good players. They are what they are since I returned to England in 2013. They are a title contender and we have to respect them that way.”

City have lost Sergio Agüero to suspension for the 172nd Manchester derby but Mourinho claimed this will make his team’s task harder. “It’s difficult,” he said. “When Agüero is available we know he plays – we know he plays and their dynamics. When a player like him is ready he plays.

“But they have an amazing rich squad in options. Has he [Guardiola] decided to play with [Kelechi] Iheanacho, [Raheem] Sterling, or [David] Silva as a fake number nine – between the lines? He has so many options.

“We have to go step by step, situation after situation. We know they have so many options that to try to do that job for the players is difficult. With Agüero it’s a difficult situation. Without Agüero it’s more difficult.”

Mourinho is unhappy that his Argentina players – Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo – had a circuitous route back from their World Cup qualifier away to Venezuela in Mérida on Wednesday evening.

He pointed to how the City players involved in the game – Pablo Zabaleta and Nicolás Otamendi – flew directly home but his pair did not, seeming to suggest United had penny-pinched.

“They are available but Antonio [Valencia, who was with Ecuador] was able to get one flight direct to Madrid and then the connection to Manchester is an easy one,” he said.

“But Sergio and Marcos they went around the globe, they played in Venezuela and then [went via] Argentina back to Europe. Man City spent the money to bring them on direct flights from Venezuela or maybe they sent one of their planes from the owner. But our boys went via Argentina and they came here on time for training this morning.” Guardian Service

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