By the end of this season, it’ll be 30 years that Mauricio Pochettino has been going at it with Pep Guardiola on and off. From Espanyol to Chelsea, from Barcelona to Manchester City.
Captains on opposing sides in Catalonia. Then ‘the Harry Kane team’. Then the VAR-affected Champions League quarter final. There is a steady stream of scrapes between the two of them.
Pochettino was always a Jose Mourinho acolyte, bonding over their mutual dislike of Barca. But unlike Mourinho, this relationship with Guardiola has always simmered rather than boiled over.
Pochettino has a little too much class for that and the City manager has barely had a crossed word with a counterpart since rocking up in England seven years ago. Even Mourinho. But it is there, that want to get one over on the other.
Neither was asked about Kane before they lock horns once more at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, which will have suited them. Guardiola’s comments in 2017 – meant as a compliment on the player rather than slight on the team – were the closest they’ve come to a full feud on these shores, with Pochettino snapping back.
Pep Guardiola (left) and Mauricio Pochettino (right) have a ready-made rivalry as former captains of Barcelona and Espanyol
After first meeting as players the pair later managed their Catalan clubs in numerous derbies
Despite Pochettino handing Guardiola his first defeat in English, his wins against the Man City Goliath have been few and far between
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‘It was disrespectful,’ the ex-Tottenham boss said. ‘When he was at Barcelona, I did not refer to them as (Lionel) Messi’s team.’
Guardiola qualified his statement, placating Pochettino somewhat. The Argentine gently suggested they should sort it out in the ring. And while there is no great love between them, there is heaps of mutual respect.
‘Even if he doesn’t believe me, he’s a top, top, top manager,’ Guardiola said six years ago, while he this week suggested that his opposite number will have Chelsea challenging for the title at some point. And Pochettino went on the charm offensive at Cobham on Friday afternoon, labelling the 52-year-old ‘the best coach in the world’.
‘It’s a fantastic challenge,’ he said. ‘I’ve too many memories. Some good, some not so good. It’s a pleasure, and it’s going to be really nice.’
Some of the memories are majorly significant. Pochettino became the first Espanyol manager to win at the Nou Camp for 27 years as he went against his fellow former captain. During his time with the city’s second club, he had to dispel the myth that his style was ‘anti-Guardiola’. Instead, Espanyol pressed high up the pitch to unsettle the all-conquering Barca in a way very few attempted.
It paid off, just like those unforgettable two legs of the Champions League last eight in 2019. City, the favourites that year – in any given year – were left bereft. They’d won 4-3 in the return leg, after losing 1-0 at the new Spurs stadium that was only six days old. Fernando Llorente’s handball for one goal at the Etihad Stadium was missed by VAR, before Raheem Sterling was marginally offside in the very last minute, disallowing what would have been a dramatic winner.
The duo have been involved in some thrilling affairs over the course of their rivalry
Guardiola’s description of Tottenham as ‘the Harry Kane team’ in 2017 riled up his adversary
Wins for Pochettino’s sides against Guardiola’s have been few and far between – but the most memorable came in the Champions League
Guardiola, wearing his lucky grey cardigan, sunk to his knees when the offside call was made after a lengthy check. VAR’s not come particularly far since. At that point, mastering Europe looked far, far away for City. Pochettino, meanwhile, danced 10 yards to his right in the away dugout during what was the best run of his career.
And he was the first manager in England to beat Guardiola, in 2016. He’d won his first six in the Premier League until going to White Hart Lane in early October, beaten 2-0. Staff around Spurs still talk about that team Pochettino galvanised. Walker, Wanyama, Eriksen, Dele, Alderweireld, Rose: guile and aggression in equal measure, capable of toppling anybody.
But then Pochettino’s bad memories are plentiful. He’s never faced any manager more than Guardiola. Twenty-two occasions, with only four victories. Of those he has faced at least five times, only Jurgen Klopp has restricted him to a lower average points per game than the 0.77 of Guardiola.
There have been regular beatings. They includes both legs of a Champions League semi-final in 2021, a competition that his job at Paris Saint-Germain hinged on. The task at Chelsea is wildly different, but a fifth victory over his old foe would be just the tonic in a season that is about gathering momentum.
After a chaotic but vital victory against Tottenham, giving Man City a scare could give Chelsea real momentum
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