Manchester City manager is a big admirer of his Tottenham counterpart as two teams meet at Wembley on Monday
Mutual admiration society between Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino resumes
It is almost a decade since Mauricio Pochettino’s first game in management came against Pep Guardiola.
They were on different sides of a divide, Espanyol against Barcelona, but the Catalan’s admiration for the Argentine has been a constant since then. Guardiola goes out of his way to praise Pochettino and regularly cites Tottenham Hotspur as one of the teams he most enjoys watching.
But every relationship has had the occasional difficulty. Last year, Pochettino branded his Manchester City counterpart “disrespectful” when Guardiola called Spurs “the Harry Kane team”. It was, he said, a “sad comment”. The City manager felt his remarks had been misinterpreted.
A season on, with Tottenham having won seven of nine league games in a campaign when Kane has rarely hit the heights, he accepts that description, however it was meant, is incorrect.
“They show me how wrong I was,” he smiled.
If it reflects the way that Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura, two who were not in Spurs’ strongest side last season, are now the joint second top scorers, it is also a sign of Pochettino’s prowess. He is yet to win silverware but, after being deprived of summer signings, has overseen Spurs’ best start to a Premier League season.
“I have a lot of respect of the job he has done in his career," Guardiola said. "He is already a top coach.”
Pochettino’s exploits have brought interest from Real Madrid but Guardiola, referencing Tottenham’s infamously intransigent chairman, warned the Uefa Champions League holders: “Mr Levy is not an easy guy to negotiate with.”
So a rivalry could continue in England for quite some time. Meetings with Tottenham have contained some of the seminal moments of Guardiola’s reign at City.
Last season’s 4-1 win at the Etihad Stadium was one of his most emphatic victories. Rewind two years and Pochettino inflicted his first defeat, giving a newcomer a lesson in the realities of English football as Dele Alli inspired a 2-0 triumph.
Leaders then, City ended up third, behind Spurs.
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“When I analysed this game, I realised this is the Premier League,” Guardiola recalled. “I felt ‘wow’. People said in that period ‘City is going to win the Premier League’ and people didn’t consider them a contender to win the league and in that game I realised, when I saw how physical they are, how good they are, how high they press.”
He has happier memories of last season’s trip to Tottenham. City ventured south after three consecutive defeats to Liverpool and Manchester United. They won 3-1 at Wembley.
“One of the best performances we play,” Guardiola said. “We reacted strongly. The day after we were champions.”
And titles can hinge on such games. City are proof. In Guardiola’s debut campaign, they took 10 points from a possible 30 against the rest of the top six. Last year, they claimed a remarkable 24.
“The first year we dropped a lot of points against contenders,” he said. “Except Anfield and United at home, we won everything in the second season.”
Their fixture list this season has been frontloaded with trips to their peers. They have beaten Arsenal in London and drawn away at Liverpool.
“When you play against the contenders it’s almost six points, isn’t it?” he added. “It’s true that the strong teams are making a lot of points. They are not dropping points easily.
"That’s why maybe the games against the contenders are becoming so important. We’ve started with three games away against them.”
Go back to January 2009 and Pochettino’s bow brought a 0-0 draw against Guardiola. As he invoked the cliché of a six-pointer, the sense was the Catalan might settle for a repeat.