That Night in Barcelona
The rivalry between José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola is one of modern day football’s great dramas. The duo have crossed swords numerous times, with Mourinho cast as the master of the dark arts, while Guardiola is portrayed as the idealistic purist. It is a story riddled with feuds, tetchy conflicts, and no shortage of bad blood dating back to the time when the pair were in charge of Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
In terms of pure numbers the Catalan holds the upper hand. Guardiola and Mourinho have squared off 19 times, with the Spaniard emerging triumphant eight times while his Portuguese counterpart has won on four occasions.
Naturally, the stats don’t tell the full story of their clashes. Inter’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Barcelona in the 2010 Champions League semi-final second leg was notable for the defensive brilliance exhibited by the Italian side, an effort that enabled the Nerazzurri advace to the final on thee way to lifting the trophy. Likewise the European Super Cup encounter, when Guardiola and Mourinho managed Bayern Munich and Chelsea respectively, ended up in a 2-2 draw, with the German club winning the subsequent penalty shoot-out 10-9.
It’s their fifth encounter that’s left the most indelible mark though. The setup couldn’t have been more tantalizing: Mourinho the European champion versus Guardiola the visionary, their first clash as coaches of Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, all wrapped up in the soap opera that is El Clásico. It was a chance for Mourinho to show that he could coach a side capable of outplaying Guardiola’s team, but instead it ended up in humiliation for the Portuguese with his side humbled 5-0. Although all other clashes, before and since, have been won by a margin of two goals or less, the thrashing left a permanent scar.
Going into the game Mourinho’s Real Madrid had started the season well, winning 10 of the campaign’s first 12 league matches, with Los Merengues leading Barça in the table. Mourinho was ready to stand toe-to-toe with Guardiola, even selecting what on paper was an effective attacking unit.
What Mourinho didn’t expect was a Barcelona footballing masterclass as the Catalans turned in a near complete performance. Mourinho’s side was cruelly exposed by the sharp, incisive Barcelona passing, orchestrated by the brilliant Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta in midfield. Barcelona used the ball to build probing attacks, while Real’s strategy was to hit the opponents on the counter. It is a familiar pattern.
“Best laid plans,” as the saying begins – and José’s were left in ruins, with the result beyond doubt long before Mourinho brought on Lassana Diarra and changed the team’s shape to a 4-3-3.
Five fingers were held up to signify the scale of the defeat. “La Manita” was Mourinho’s first taste of the Clásico, and it was a bitter one. The now United manager did his best to deflect attention away from the result stating that “one team played very good, one team very bad. Deserved win, deserved loss. Humiliated? No. It’s easy to deal with this loss, we just weren’t good enough.”
*Stats from Opta and Goal.com
But the match also informed Mourinho’s vision of playing Barcelona and on a more general note a Pep-guided team. Mourinho is not a coach who instinctively trusts possession, placing instead his faith in a team that can efficiently react to transitions. His reaction was to try and force Guardiola’s side to play a different type of game, one which attempted to take the Catalan’s charges out of their comfort zone.
Indeed, the Portuguese boss has clung to his principles even more closely since, insofar as his vision is to cancel out opponents and turn matches into games of fine margins. He hasn’t quite figured out a formula to beat Guardiola on a consistent basis though – last season saw United and City trade victories, while settling for a draw.
*Premier League Stats from PremierLeague.com
*EFL Cup Stats from BBC
What José’s United has been consistently doing in matches against the “noisy neighbours” is to allow the Blues to have the ball, although it’s worth noting that the Old Trafford club enjoyed a fair chunk of possession during an EFL Cup victory last season.
There’ll be more games this season, including next weekend. On top of the league matches, United could conceivably face the Blues on five more occasions should the clubs meet before the finals of the Carabao Cup and Champions League, as well as being drawn together in the FA Cup. It would add another chapter to the José-Pep story, though their meetings in England have been far more civil compared to the duo’s time in Spain.
Mourinho would no doubt love to have his own “manita” or something similar, if only to hold a marquee result against his Catalan contemporary. The 5-0 sticks out like a sore thumb because it is one of the few times that the Portuguese supercoach has suffered such as complete and thorough dismantling of his side.
If anything, Mourinho’s iconic result against Guardiola was Inter’s 1-0 defeat at Camp Nou in 2010. It was a display of bloody-minded stubbornness and impeccable defensive discipline, and one ensured that the Italian club did just enough to advance to the Champions League final.
The phrase “THAT night in Barcelona” brings back fond memories for United fans, but in Mourinho’s case his recollections are much more painful. What José wouldn’t give for his own special result against Guardiola so he can remind the world of “THAT afternoon in Manchester.”