It is not often that a League Cup tie becomes a must-win game, but that will be the case on Wednesday night. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola both enter the game under pressure as Manchester United come into this tie on the back of a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Chelsea, while Manchester City have failed to win their last five in all competitions.
Guardiola’s side may top the Premier League, but it’s a concerning run of form for the Spaniard. Indeed, the 1-1 draw with Southampton equalled Guardiola’s longest winless run as a coach, having last recorded the feat as Barcelona coach in February 2009. Like this current blip, Guardiola’s Barcelona side endured three draws and two defeats, before winning the following seven matches in all competitions.
As far as City fans are concerned, Wednesday would be the ideal time for the club to return to winning ways. When the two teams met at Old Trafford earlier this season, City came away with a 2-1 win after what was possibly the best first half performance by a team in the Premier League this season. What Guardiola wouldn’t give for a repeat against United in midweek as he looks to secure his first piece of silverware following his appointment, particularly at the expense of his adversary Mourinho.
This season’s victory over United means Guardiola has won nine of the 17 meetings between the two managers, although it’s worth noting that one of those wins was via a penalty shootout. Nevertheless, Mourinho has routinely struggled to get the better of the Spanish boss, which if anything will add to the occasion at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. As previously mentioned, both managers are feeling the pressure ahead of this EFL Cup tie, but it’s a pressure Guardiola is not accustomed to.
During his first five-match winless run of his senior managerial career, Guardiola was given the benefit of a doubt, what with the 2008/09 campaign his first full season in charge of Barcelona. Now, with ample experience behind him, it’s an interesting predicament for the 45-year-old. He’s evidently adept at managing in the Premier League, as City’s blistering start to the season suggested, but now that the going has got tough, the tough must get going.
Indeed, in one of Guardiola’s longest winless runs in his career coincided with the 2011/12 campaign, where Mourinho finally got the better of Guardiola, in a match that effectively landed Real Madrid the La Liga title, with Mourinho’s side securing a 2-1 win at Camp Nou in April. The United boss has shown that he can capitalise on any possible pressure that would affect Guardiola and his judgement and he will hope his players can exploit any potential tactical errors.
City have not been adverse to being caught short at the back, which is a potential banana skin for any Guardiola side. His preference to play the ball out from the back means opponents can press high and catch City’s defence off guard, which has seen them commit more errors that have led to an opposition shot (6) than any other Premier League team this season. With Guardiola also swapping to a three-man defence in recent weeks, City’s backline can be exploited.
If anything, this increases the defensive responsibility thrust upon Fernandinho. While Guardiola would have wanted to rest his key men for this fixture, the Brazilian’s tenacity in the midfield third has been crucial this term and the City boss needs the 31-year-old to carry out his responsibilities with aplomb to come away with victory. He’s making the fourth most tackles per game (2.4) and the second most interceptions per game (2) of all City players this season, with his shielding of the backline vital on Wednesday night.
Furthermore, only Jordan Henderson (680) has played more accurate passes than Fernandinho (548) in England’s top tier this term, with the experienced midfielder capable of not only robbing the opposition of possession, but ensuring City keep hold of the ball to limit the pressure upon the goal. Both facets are vital in keeping Paul Pogba at bay, with football’s most expensive player set to feature for United on Wednesday.
The 23-year-old has failed to replicate his Juventus form from last season, particularly in front of goal, but showed what he is capable of by firing a fine effort past Volkan Demirel in United’s 4-1 win over Fenerbahce in the Europa League last week. City, though, kept Pogba at bay when these two teams met last month, so Guardiola’s side boast the know how to limit the France international’s influence.
Either way, both managers need a win at Old Trafford to silence the critics, if only temporarily. The EFL Cup meeting promises to be a tense affair at Old Trafford as both managers strive to secure victory in the latest Manchester Derby.