MANCHESTER, England — It’s not all bad news for Jose Mourinho. The Tottenham Hotspur manager can still claim to be the last coach to mastermind a win against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, although that distinction might not have provided much consolation as Spurs headed back to London after a 3-0 defeat against the runaway Premier League leaders on Saturday.
But with Tottenham now facing a battle just to finish in the top four this season after suffering their fourth defeat in five league games, the fading memory of that 2-0 home win against City last November at least offers Mourinho the right to say he still knows how to beat the best. Sadly for Mourinho, that is what his rivalry with Guardiola has now become: a fading memory. While Guardiola wins trophies and breaks records, and then threatens to repeat it all at City, Mourinho is locked in a battle with himself to prove that he is not yesterday’s man. Wins like that one last November still matter to Mourinho.
If he beats his old rival in the Carabao Cup final in April (his 1-0 win with Manchester United in October 2016 remains the last time Guardiola was knocked out of the competition), Mourinho will deserve to celebrate another trophy, but the one-time Special One doesn’t come close when the biggest prizes are handed out nowadays, and the Carabao Cup might be as good as it gets.
Guardiola has won that particular trophy in each of the past three seasons. Two years ago, it was the first leg of a domestic treble and City are on course to do that again this year. They may even win the Champions League, too. And having secured a 16th successive win in all competitions with this victory against Spurs, who can seriously bet against City sweeping the board this season?
But that is the glittering road ahead: trophies and history lurking at every turn.
There was a time when Mourinho was on a similar path during his first spell at Chelsea and then Internazionale, but it is all about Guardiola now. This was the 25th meeting between the two men in all competitions for all clubs, and Guardiola has won 11 compared to Mourinho’s seven, with the other seven finishing level. For Mourinho’s sake, let’s not talk about the trophy count.
At the Etihad on Saturday, Mourinho’s team were dominated from start to finish — with the exception of the 14th minute when Harry Kane sent a free kick against the City crossbar — and the home side could have won by a greater margin.
“A fresh team against a very tired team,” Mourinho said after the game. “But a team that started the game very well.
“I am very, very happy with the players’ attitude. I had guys on the pitch who played two hours a couple of days ago and they gave everything.”
Mourinho at least showed ambition with his starting lineup, by boldly selecting four forwards in Kane, Erik Lamela, Son Heung-Min and Lucas Moura, but it made no difference. He and his team still had no answer to City’s waves of attacks as Ilkay Gundogan once again scored twice, having hit two at Liverpool last week, after Rodri’s opener from the penalty spot.
But there was never any hint of a repeat of the win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, when Mourinho’s team went top with 20 points from nine games. They have since taken 16 points from a possible 42, dropping to eighth place in the process.
As for City, they’ve won 13 of 15 league games and drawn two since losing at Spurs. Back then, they were as low as 11th, but they now sit top, seven points clear of second-placed Leicester City, with a game in hand on Brendan Rodgers’s team. Manchester United can close the gap to five points by winning at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, but City play their game in hand at Everton on Wednesday and a win at Goodison Park will surely signal the end of this season’s title race.
The worry for the chasing pack is that City were so comfortable in winning this game — both going forward and defensively. They did not need to hit top gear to claim the three points and the win was achieved without the injured Kevin De Bruyne and with Ruben Dias and Sergio Aguero only fit enough to take a place on the substitutes’ bench.
City’s first goal came from the penalty spot on 22 minutes, when Rodri made it 1-0 after Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg had fouled Gundogan.
“A modern penalty,” Mourinho said. “A modern penalty is one where even if you touch with a nail it can be a penalty.”
Davinson Sanchez denied City a second on 42 minutes with a goal-line block from Gundogan’s close-range shot, but the latter was on the scoresheet early the second half when he beat Hugo Lloris with a tame left-foot strike. Gundogan’s second on 66 minutes was outstanding — the Germany international controlled a long clearance by goalkeeper Ederson before beating Sanchez and then scoring past Lloris.
The game was won by then and the title race has a similar sense of inevitability. City might lose again before the end of the season, but it’s difficult to see them dropping seven or eight points.
City and Guardiola march on, but Mourinho and Spurs are limping. The Spurs boss has little to smile about right now — apart from being the last man to beat Guardiola.