Manchester United vs Manchester City: Pep Guardiola refuses to acknowledge Jose Mourinho rivalry amid pitch concern
Pep Guardiola has insisted he is more concerned about injuries to his Manchester City players than renewing hostilities with Jose Mourinho amid growing fears over the state of the pitch for Monday’s friendly against Manchester United in Beijing.
City and United are due to contest the first Manchester derby outside England when they meet in the Chinese capital on Monday.
But with heavy rain damaging the pitch at the Bird’s Nest Stadium – further heavy rain is forecast over the next 24 hours – the two clubs have been forced to train away from the 2008 Olympics venue in an effort to protect the playing surface.
City manager Guardiola refused to criticise the state of the pitch, but the Spaniard admits that he is concerned about his players emerging unscathed from the game.
“No injuries,” Guardiola said, when asked what he hoped to achieve from the game. “We didn’t see the (Bird’s Nest) pitch, but the information we have is there could be a lot of rain in the last day so it’s not in good condition.
“We’re going to adapt, adjust, because it’s the second game for our preparation, but the most important thing is that people aren’t going to be injured.”
Away from the action on the pitch, one focus of attention will be the first meeting between Guardiola and Mourinho since the pair clashed regularly as rival managers in Spain with Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.
The two men once worked closely together at Barcelona, however, and Guardiola insists he will be happy to shake hands with Mourinho ahead of the game.
“Of course, we are polite guys,” Guardiola said. “Why not? Why should he not shake my hand? No reason why. He wants to win, I want to win, that’s all.
“It’s a friendly game. A really friendly game.”
Mourinho’s arrival at United is unlikely to temper the rivalry between the two clubs and managers.
And Guardiola admits that he expects United to be much stronger this season after trailing in fifth in the Premier League under the sacked Louis van Gaal last season.
“I saw the game against Borussia Dortmund (on Friday) and that’s all,” Guardiola said. “So it’s too early to know how Manchester United will be.
“But I’m pretty sure they will be stronger than the last years.
“With this manager and the good players they already have, I’m sure they are going to buy new players, and they will be a strong team.”
Manchester United summer transfer targets
Paul Pogba, Juventus
Despite letting him go on Sir Alex Ferguson’s watch in 2012, United are desperate to land Juventus star Paul Pogba. It may yet take a world record fee of £100m to lure the 23-year-old away from Turin, however, but Jose Mourinho has made his intentions to sign world-class players known this summer. The Portuguese will hope Pogba can replicate the sort of form which has helped him scored 23 goals in 124 appearances in Serie A.
Blaise Matuidi, Paris Saint-Germain
There have been conflicting reports over United’s interest in Matuidi. Initially, it was thought he was a back-up option should United fail in their attempt to sign Pogba, though some have since suggested that Mourinho is keen on bringing both players to the club.
Hirving Lozano, Pachuca
Young Pachuca forward Hirving Lozano might not sell a mass of shirts immediately, if indeed he does sign, the 20-year-old is considered one of the most exciting talents in world football. Nicknamed ‘Chunky’, Lozano is capped seven times for Mexico despite his tender age, having scored 21 goals in 91 senior appearances for Pachuca.
Alvaro Morata, Real Madrid
Having signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic in June, United remain on the lookout for cover in attacking positions with a move for Alvaro Morata seeming likely. The Spaniard was in fine form for his country at Euro 2016 this summer before it was announced that Real Madrid had utilised a buy-back clause in his Juventus contract. That isn’t the end of matters, though, with the Spanish giants planning to sell Morata on immediately for profit.
James Rodriguez, Real Madrid
After seeing little game time under Zinedine Zidane at Madrid, another name to be thrown into the Old Traffor mix is that of James Rodriguez. The Columbian superstar was even relegated to the La Liga B side on occasions as he fell quite spectacularly down the pecking order in the Spanish capital. While Paris Saint-Germain remains his most likely destination, with reports suggesting a fee has been agreed, don’t rule out a late counter offer from United.
N’Golo Kante, Leicester City
It seems everyone has been linked with Leicester City’s midfield maestro N’Golo Kante this summer. The Frenchman made a name for himself during the Foxes’ remarkable march to the Premier League title in 2016 following a low-key £5.6m transfer from Caen the previous summer. Kante is both combative and industrious, refusing to let up until possession is won back. While the champions may be keen to keep their little midfield star, the presence of a release clause in his contract at the King Power Stadium means a move away remains entirely possible.
Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal
In a surprise rumour, Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey was linked with a switch to the North West. The 25-year-old has been in scintillating form for Wales at Euro 2016 this summer but it remains to be seen if the Gunners would be willing to entertain an approach from one of their main titles for the Premier League throne. Ramsey is reportedly frustrated at the levels of competition in the centre at the Emirates but it is unlikely United would be able to offer a firmer guarantee of first-team football.
Will Hughes, Derby County
Many thought Hughes may have missed his chance to make a big-money move away from the iPro Stadium when he rejected the chance to sign for Liverpool last summer. The young Englishman remains one of the most promising players outside the top flight despite being unable to inspire Derby to promotion from the Championship. The East Midlands outfit are likely to demand an inflated transfer fee for their midfield wizard too but United have shown in the past that money is usually no object.
While United fly back to England immediately after Monday’s game in Beijing, City will head south to Shenzhen to face Borussia Dortmund before heading back to Manchester.
The pitch issue in Beijing combined with the oppressive humidity and searing heat – temperatures reach 106 degrees during City’s training session on Sunday morning – have made life difficult for both teams during their preparations in China.
But Guardiola admits that fixtures in the Far East are unavoidable in the modern world of commercialism in football.
“Today, all the big clubs in the world are coming here, sometimes in the United States or Australia,” Guardiola said. “The club decides.
“We talk about the best conditions as possible for training – the humidity and the conditions for training is not perfect, but we have to adapt.
“But for the club, it’s so important to come here to China to make the people se how we are and, of course, play a good two games against amazing teams like United and Dortmund.
“Of course for the sponsors and the marketing, we have to train a little bit, but after one week, we come back to Manchester and make the last two weeks to prepare for our first official game.”