Pep Guardiola taking a leaf from Jose Mourinho’s book: Richard Buxton
Man City boss seems to have adopted ex-United manager's mind-game tactics
When it comes to the art of winning, Pep Guardiola has clearly learned from the best.
Johan Cruyff taught the Manchester City manager how to influence games on the pitch, but it was Jose Mourinho who showed him the way to succeed in more unfamiliar terrain.
Getting under the skin became the Special One's default approach to management and would routinely irk Guardiola. Now, however, the Spaniard actively subscribes to his arch-nemesis' trademarks.
Obfuscation has replaced purism for the Catalan, as he seeks to lay down a marker ahead of the top-of-the-table clash with Liverpool in the English Premier League on Monday morning (Singapore time).
The small matter of City's Champions League group encounter against Atalanta tomorrow morning was immediately rendered secondary, once Guardiola attempted to grab a head start on the mind games for the Anfield showdown.
In both message and execution, it was plucked straight out of the Mourinho playbook.
Claims about diving and scoring vital late goals are open to interpretation, if only in terms of who he was directly addressing.
Whether aimed specifically at Sadio Mane or just a general barb in the Reds' direction, Guardiola's backhanded compliment still had its desired effect.
Unwisely, Juergen Klopp rose to the bait and needlessly made reference to City's penchant for "tactical fouls".
The Liverpool boss should have instead let his side's mentality monsters, who have earned a commanding six-point lead in this season's EPL title race, do the talking on the pitch.
Relations between the German and his counterpart at the Etihad Stadium have remained largely cordial since their paths again crossed in the English top flight, yet Merseyside's continued resurgence prompted Guardiola to drastically change the tone in recent months.
TURN THE TABLES
Efforts to turn the tables on Liverpool through a combination of flattering deflection tactics and outright complaints still seemingly fall on deaf ears with football's various authorities.
He knows from first-hand experience the impact that such gamesmanship can inflict.
At Barcelona, he was regularly stung by Mourinho's words and prompted an expletive-laden backlash in which he accused the media of making his opposite number "the chief".
Yet the reigning European champions do not need to mouth off to rile Guardiola. The current gulf in standards between themselves and City, both in points and performances, is enough to soothe any temptations to resort to verbal sparring.
Liverpool supporters already take gleeful delight in the notion that they are living "rent-free" in Guardiola's head, especially after an iconic photograph of him refusing to shake hands with a young Steven Gerrard in 2001 resurfaced.
Descending into full-blown Mourinho mode and trying to get a rise out of The Kop this weekend is looking increasingly like his best option of snatching the spoils against Klopp's side.
He clearly has the capabilities.
Accusations that Guardiola regularly goaded Southampton's backroom staff during their 2-1 reversal last weekend suggests that the ex-Manchester United manager's presence remains strong in the city despite Mourinho being jettisoned barely 11 months ago.
Before ignominiously leaving Old Trafford, the Special One passed the baton to a man who has been friend and foe in equal measure throughout their respective careers.
In an hour of need, Guardiola seems to have finally succumbed to Mourinho's dark side.