Pep Guardiola and Manchester City have received a huge advantage after their victory over Jose Mourinho and Manchester United on Saturday.
Not only does City get the bragging rights of having won yet another Manchester derby, but they top the table as only one of two teams to maintain a perfect winning record four games into the season; the other being Chelsea who play Swansea late on Sunday.
While Guariolda got his tactics spot on and Kevin de Bruyne starred as the perfect free-role attacking midfielder, Mourinho felt his players were not ready for the challenge.
“The two halves were completely different. In the first half we were below the level to play this match. You have to be completely ready in terms of the speed of your thinking and decision making. We had a few players who were not at that level – we lost easy balls and let them recover the ball. We paid for our mistakes,” Mourinho said after the match when asked about the performance of his players.
However, while he didn’t mention it post match, Mourinho had already lamented that his players might not be in the best frame of mind for the derby over a week ago.
Speaking with MUTV at the start of the international break, Mourinho criticised the timing of the international friendlies and World Cup qualifiers ahead of the Manchester derby.
“We keep eight outfield players and Sam Johnstone as the goalkeeper. We are going to lose the others and we don’t know the way they train, the way they recover, the life they are going to have with their national teams,” Mourinho told MUTV on August 31.
He further elaborated on his lack of preparation saying: “Some (players) are coming back on the Monday before the Manchester City match but some are coming back on Friday. The day before Man City, we will still have Sergio Romero, Marcos Rojo and Valencia arriving.”
While the problem of the international break affects all teams, English Premier League teams with more international players and those having to travel further (like players of South American and East Asian countries) have more trouble adjusting.
For example, Tottenham Hotspur striker Son Heung-Min was lined up for two 2018 World Cup qualifying matches for South Korea but opted to miss the second to return to London and fight for his place in his club side. He starred in South Korea’s 3-2 win against China on September 1 but his absence resulted in South Korea managing only a 0-0 against Syria on September 6. However, the striker certainly put to good use his team with the club side as he scored two goals for Tottenham against Stoke on Saturday.
While Mourinho expressed he was pleased his players were selected for national duty, he certainly bore the brunt of their fatigue and injuries.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic had retired from international football with Sweden but was given four days to rest before training owing to his advanced age; Mourinho gave other players two days off but Ibrahimovic was given four because Mourinho felt he needed more rest as a 34-year-old.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was given his first Premier League start but seemed to be still reeling from an injury suffered on duty with Armenia which caused him to return early to Manchester. Luke Shaw was another causality who was withdrawn for an early bath when he felt an “uncomfortable” sensation in the leg he had broken last season when playing in England’s World Cup qualifier against Slovakia. Similarly, Valencia was thought to have suffered a knock playing for Ecuador. In total, seven United players were reported to face late fitness tests having returned from international duty with injury concerns.
Mourinho’s gameplan for City was to utilise the quality of certain individuals. Unfortunately, he said the players he expected to perform well did not show up and it was his fault for selecting them.
“I thought because of the characteristics of the game we could hurt them playing with some individuals with some qualities, they didn’t give what I want. Is it their fault? Is it my fault? It’s my fault because I’m the manager and it’s always my fault because it’s always my choice,” Mourinho said post match.
This was the first stumbling block for Mourinho in his new journey as United manager, but with Fifa’s international match calendar a constant fix in every calendar year, the Portuguese very well knew the problems he was going to face from the moment the Premier league fixture list was released.