Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Tottenham v Manchester City: Champions League quarter-finals the stage for first 'Euroderby'

Pochettino and Spurs welcome Guardiola and his side to the new stadium for Tuesday night's clash between two Premier League rivals

The rivalry between Mauricio Pochettino, left, and Pep Guardiola goes back many years. Getty Images
The rivalry between Mauricio Pochettino, left, and Pep Guardiola goes back many years. Getty Images

There are so many firsts in prospect in North London on Tuesday night that Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City will be tempted to believe all precedents are irrelevant.

It is the first ever European match at Spurs’ magnificent new home; it is the first ever Uefa Champions League game between these two clubs.

Moreover, the winner over the two legs will be one step away from a first ever European Cup final in the history of the club.

But for all that, they know one another far too well for comfort. Ties like these, where clubs from the same nation meet under Uefa’s banner, tend to be labelled as ‘Euroderbies’, a term that captures the paradox of close familiarity transported into an unusual context.

Pep Guardiola, the City manager, has known a few Euroderbies in his career: he oversaw successful, highly-charged Champions League semi-finals against Real Madrid when he coached Barcelona; he suffered the shock ambush set by Liverpool on his City in the quarter-finals 12 months ago.

As for derbies, Guardiola and Pochettino have shared in plenty, so their first Euroderby seems almost a natural latest chapter in a personal rivalry that goes back a quarter of a century. Pep v Poch is a saga peppered with some underdog triumphs, many shifts of venue, and the odd sharp-tongued remark alongside the undoubted mutual respect.

As long-serving players for the two senior clubs in the city of Barcelona, Pochettino and Guardiola were on opposite sides of 10 Catalan derbies in the 1990s and early 2000s.

They were distinct sorts of footballers, the Argentine a rugged central defender with Espanyol, Guardiola a pass-and-move stylist in Barcelona’s midfield. Guardiola’s Barca won most local scuffles, although Espanyol achieved one memorable and emotional triumph, a 2-0 win in 1997 on a resonant day for Pochettino.

It was the last local derby played at the Sarria stadium, Espanyol’s long-term home. Pochettino has since likened supporters’ affection for the place with the feelings he saw in Spurs fans towards the old White Hart Lane, vacated in 2017.

Pochettino is now rather an expert in new arenas. As an Espanyol employee, just as as a Spurs manager, he lived through a move to temporary, borrowed home. For Wembley, where Tottenham have played all their ‘home’ Champions League matches over the last 18 months, read the Olympic stadium in Barcelona, Espanyol’s rented site until 2009. Pochettino, never a prolific goalgetter, scored Espanyol’s first ever goal there.

He also managed Espanyol in the last-ever Catalan derby to be played at Montjuic, which happened to be Pochettino’s first ever match as a manager and the first of his 14 managerial head-to-heads with Guardiola, who by 2009 was developing an all-conquering Barcelona.

That day, Pochettino held him to a surprising 0-0 draw. Later that year, with Espanyol installed at their new Cornella stadium, Pochettino did the same again, drawing the first ever derby there.

So now to another new stadium, for another historic duel of two gifted contemporaries, men who are a year apart in age (Guardiola is slightly older, at 48) and with much in common in how they envisage their sport and in their ambitions.

Will the new splendid modern venue - a high-spec citadel for a high-press, slick Spurs team when they are their best - make a difference? City’s players are saying no, but Pochettino knows otherwise.

He knows this venue will become a lasting statement of Tottenham’s identity, an identity Guardiola last season seemed to belittle. The City manager referred to Spurs as “the Harry Kane team,” as if they were a one-man show.

Pochettino called the remark "disrespectful" and, carefully alluding to past jousts, pointed out he had never scathingly referred to Guardiola’s Barcelona as "the Messi team".

The argument was played out in soundbites, and then an apology from Guardiola, whose record as a manager against Pochettino remains as sturdy in a Premier League context as it was when Pep and Poch were jousting for bragging rights in Catalonia. Pochettino has beaten Guardiola just twice in their 14 meetings as managers and City have defeated Tottenham in their last three contests.

But none of those were at a dazzling new arena. And none was a Euroderby.

Updated: April 9, 2019 08:53 AM

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