Pep Guardiola worried over state of Bird’s Nest pitch as he prepares to rekindle rivalry with Mourinho in China
Old enemies face each other in first Manchester derby to be held outside England
Pep Guardiola says he just hopes to get through today’s much anticipated Manchester derby in China without any injuries after revealing fears over the quality of the pitch in Beijing.
One of the likely key rivalries of the forthcoming English Premier League season kicks off today, at the Bird’s Nest as new Manchester rivals Guardiola and Jose Mourinho face off with City and United.
And while Guardiola was keen to play down the long-held enmity between him and Mourinho – sparked during their days in charge of Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively – he admitted the pitch was a major concern.
Beijing has been lashed by rainstorms in recent days, and the teams didn’t train at the Bird’s Nest as planned in an effort to prevent further damage to the surface.
“We didn’t see the 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,” Guardiola told English media. “We’re going to adapt, adjust.
“It’s the second game for our preparation.
“We’re going to start to move forward like we talked in the beginning. That’s the target.
“The most important thing is that people aren’t going to be injured.”
Guardiola insisted he would shake Mourinho’s hand before the game.
“Of course. We are polite guys. Why not? Why should he not shake my hand? No reason why. He wants to win, I want to win, that’s all.”
The pair’s rivalry in Spain descended into childish name-calling and even mild violence, as when Mourinho poked Guardiola’s assistant Tito Vilanova in an eye after one bad-tempered derby.
But Guardiola insisted of the China clash: “It’s a friendly game. A really friendly game.”
The prospect of the pair reigniting their feud in England has had fans of the Premier League soap opera drooling, and privately both men will surely be eager to score an early point, friendly or otherwise.
United’s China trip got off to an embarrassing start, however, when Borussia Dortmund outclassed them 4-1 in a friendly in Shanghai last week.
“I saw the game against Borussia Dortmund and that’s all,” said Guardiola when asked how much research he has been doing on the Portuguese’s side.
“It’s too early to know how Manchester United will be.
“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 payers, and they will be a strong team.”
City kicked off their pre-season preparations with a 1-0 defeat at Guardiola’s former club Bayern Munich in Germany.
Captain Vincent Kompany is in Beijing with the squad after recovering from an injury-blighted campaign in 2015-16, but did not train with the rest of the players as he is undergoing his own intensive programme to regain full fitness.
Guardiola said there was a possibility he could be ready for the first game of the new season against Sunderland on August 13, but he would not rush the Belgian central defender back and risk further injury.
“The physio says he is ready but he needs to show that he can play one week, then one week more, to play regularly,” said Guardiola.
“The most important thing is for Vincent to get fit - if it’s for Sunderland, perfect. If not, September.”
City will play Dortmund in Shenzhen on Thursday to conclude their China tour.
Meanwhile, United striker Antony Martial may be on his way out after reports claimed he was furious about losing his No.9 jersey to new striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The French player made some changes to his social media accounts that seemed more than a little pointed – changing his profile images to ones dominated by the No.9 and unfollowing the club’s Twitter and Instagram accounts.
United reportedly gave Ibrahimovic the No.9 jersey without informing Martial, who had recently registered the trademark ‘AM9’.