It’s all a question of size. Ask Pep Guardiola about the importance of a player’s height and our guess is that the adage, “a good little ‘un will always beat a good big ‘un“, will be his first response, or the Spanish equivalent at least!

Ask the same question of José Mourinho and the answer may very well be reversed. He has usually built his teams around big centre forwards backed up by relatively big midfielders.

If Manchester United were to field a team of their tallest players right now it would include Marouane Fellaini at 6’4″, Paul Pogba at 6’3″, Romelu Lukaku at 6’3″ and Michael Carrick at 6’1”.

These players, along with tall centre backs make it very hard for the opposition to score from set pieces, unless they take a direct shot on goal where they would have to get past David De Gea, which is no mean feat in itself.

Thus any team managed by Mourinho is automatically very difficult to beat, simply because it is very difficult to score against them.

Last season United had a very good defensive record without having any really very good defenders, with the exception of Eric Bailly, who was the stand-out performer.

This season with the addition of Victor Lindelof and, hopefully, the selling of Chris Smalling, United could concede even fewer goals than last and it will all stem from Mourinho’s belief that defence begins with the forwards, then the responsibility falls on the midfield and finally, if that all fails he has his back three, four or five to prevent a breach.

This is the part where Romelu Lukaku needs to adapt his game. He was often accused of drifting in and out of games during his time with Everton as he often became disinterested when his team didn’t have the ball. That won’t be tolerated at United. He will be expected to go and fight for the ball and, judging by his recent comments, this is something on which he is prepared to work harder. We shall see.

Meanwhile, Pep is filling his team with as many players under six feet tall as he can reasonably get away with.

Of his, (probable), regular outfield starters, only Vincent Kompany, John Stones, Yaya Touré and Leroy Sané are six feet or taller. Nicolas Otamendi and Aleks Kolarov are also both over six feet tall but probably won’t start many games and, when they do, they will replace players of the same height so the team average will not increase.

So, with the exception of Touré and Sané, Guardiola’s only tall players are defenders, which means that they can be outnumbered and outjumped at set pieces, as was shown on several occasions last season. This will not change this coming season but expect Manchester City to keep the ball much better than last and limit the opposition to far fewer chances, resulting in fewer goals conceded.

This means that, although the objectives of the two managers are virtually identical, the theories behind achieving these objectives are very different. Just look at who United have just signed and who City want to sign! Romelu Lukaku – 6’3″ and Alexis Sanchez – 5’6″

Whilst both want to win games, score goals and not concede goals, Guardiola prefers to keep the ball on the floor, retain possession and win based on the theory that the less the opposition has of the ball, the less chance they have to score. This theory, when put into practice correctly, also results in very attractive football.

Mourinho, on the other hand, (and despite whatever he may say to the contrary), prefers to see a solid defensive performance first and foremost. He is then quite happy to win games by four or five goals but is just as happy to win by one. He is currently adapting the style of his team to suit the demands of Manchester United and, in fairness, he is doing it very well.

We here at WSA predict a much stronger challenge from the Manchester teams next season and we expect them to be fighting for the top two spots. Chelsea will be around as usual but we expect stronger outings from both Liverpool and Everton meaning that Tottenham will have to strengthen and Arsenal may struggle to make the top six!


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