Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola face off for the second time this season when Manchester United entertain holders Manchester City in the English League Cup fourth round on Wednesday.
Guardiola’s City took the spoils when he and Mourinho resumed hostilities in September, winning 2-1 at Old Trafford through goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Kelechi Iheanacho.
But City have gone off the boil since, Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Southampton leaving them without a win in five games, while United crashed to a crushing 4-0 defeat at Mourinho’s former club Chelsea.
Asked whether the identity of his side’s League Cup opponents would help motivate his hurting players, Mourinho told MUTV: “I would prefer to play in the Premier League.
“It’s a bad feeling in the Premier League. With the combination of results, the gap to the top is six points. We’ve had a very difficult period of matches.
“We are really, really sad, but again this is not for kids. This is for men and tomorrow (Monday) we have to be men and work for the next one.”
City’s win at United on September 10 formed part of a sequence of six consecutive victories, which suggested Guardiola might find life in England something of a stroll.
But since drawing 3-3 in a frenetic Champions League game at Celtic, the early-season certainty has vanished.
One-sided losses to Tottenham Hotspur and Barcelona sandwiched a 1-1 draw with Everton before Sunday’s stalemate with Southampton, who went ahead after a blunder by City centre-back John Stones.
“It’s important to change our dynamic from the previous games,” Guardiola said.
“Everything influences you. If you can play well or badly, it affects your mentality, so we are working on it.
“We will see tomorrow, after the players’ recovery, then decide if it’s necessary to make rotations or not.”
– Police presence –
The round’s other stand-out tie occurs on Tuesday when Liverpool, who lost on penalties to City in last season’s final, and Tottenham Hotspur face off at Anfield.
The teams drew 1-1 in a high-octane Premier League clash at White Hart Lane in late August.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool crept above Tottenham in the league table at the weekend after they beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 and Mauricio Pochettino’s men could only draw 0-0 at Bournemouth.
“I’m pleased with the effort because after three games (in a week) it was difficult, mentally and physically,” Pochettino said of his side’s display at the Vitality Stadium.
“The team showed again they are tough and there are lots of positives to take.
“I feel pleased with another big effort and now we keep going because we have another big game on Tuesday.”
The spotlight will fall on and off the pitch at London Stadium, where West Ham United host cross-town rivals Chelsea.
Police are expected to be on duty inside the ground, which will stage its first London derby, after violent skirmishes involving West Ham fans during recent matches at their new home.
The remaining all-top-flight tie sees Southampton host the Premier League’s bottom club Sunderland, who remain without a league win this season following Saturday’s 1-0 reverse at West Ham.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is expected to make sweeping changes for the visit of second-tier Reading, who are managed by former Manchester United and Netherlands centre-back Jaap Stam.
Hull City travel to Bristol City, while Championship leaders Newcastle United host Preston North End and Leeds United face Norwich City.
Fixtures (1845 GMT unless otherwise stated)
Arsenal v Reading, Bristol City v Hull, Leeds v Norwich, Liverpool v Tottenham, Newcastle v Preston
Manchester United v Manchester City (1900 GMT), West Ham v Chelsea, Southampton v Sunderland