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This promises to be a fascinating encounter between two men who, while they may have been leagues apart in terms of their playing careers, are both at the top table of football management. While Mourinho got the better of Guardiola in their only major matchup to date, last year’s Champions League semi-final between Barca and Inter Milan, that isn’t likely to count for much come kickoff time in El Clasico.
Both coaches have stunning managerial resumes, and there seems little doubt that both will go down as one of the top managers of this or any era, with an impressive trophy cabinet to boot. Guardiola won six trophies in 2009, his first year as Barca manager, and followed that up with a second successive La Liga crown last season.
Mourinho, while more travelled and more experienced than Guardiola, is also a born winner. Champions League triumphs with FC Porto (only the second in their history) and Inter Milan (their first since 1965) are perhaps his most impressive achievements, but the master tactician has also collected two league titles with Porto, two with Inter and two English Premier league titles with Chelsea, not to mention several cup competitions.
Six league titles in eight seasons of management, at least one trophy in every calendar year since 2002, a league, cup and European treble this year (the first in Italian history), there seems little doubt that having Mourinho in the dugout almost guarantees success.
This time around however, Mourinho faces his toughest challenge to date; finishing top of La Liga, ahead of a Barca side that has won the league title for the past two years and is regarded by many as one of the greatest sides of all-time. Only adding to the pressure, the fact that Barca and Madrid have been so dominant over the rest of La Liga means that even more rests on tonight’s game, with neither side likely to drop many points in games outside of El Clasico.
The pair have shown already that they both thrive on that type of pressure, whilst maintain slightly different footballing philosophies, with Guardiola loved for the free flowing attacking style he encourages, and Mourinho respected (and in some parts despised) for the more pragmatic and defensive style he is thought to deploy. That said, anyone who has seen Mourinho’s Chelsea side that featured Damien Duff, Arjen Robben & Frank Lampard, his Inter side with Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto’o & Diego Milito, or this current Madrid team with Angel Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo & Gonzalo Higuain, would also have to recognise that Mourinho’s sides are not shy on attacking flair either.
Too close to call. Mourinho may be slightly superior tactically, but Guardiola’s system allows his star players to thrive and is highly effective.
In a contest featuring the best two club sides in the world, separated by one league point at this point, both managers will be have to be at their best tonight, both motivationally and tactically, if their side is to leave the game triumphant. Who that will be remains to be seen.