Manchester (AFP) – Former Barcelona team-mates Pep Guardiola and Ronald Koeman are reunited at Eastlands on Saturday as Manchester City and Everton square up for the first time in the Premier League this season.
And Everton manager Koeman is relishing the chance to pit his wits against his City counterpart, who was just setting off on his glorious playing career with the Catalan club when Koeman signed for Barca in 1989.
“I have all good memories of Pep,” said Koeman. “We have a really strong friendship. Now it’s a bit easier because he’s living in Manchester and I live close to Manchester.
“Sometimes we have time for dinner and to talk about football and life. We have spent many hours together talking football.
“He was really interested in how we play in Holland. I see a lot of that in teams managed by Pep, about Barca and Dutch football and I like that because it’s the most difficult way to win – play offensive football.
“Sometimes it’s a risky way to win titles. Most other managers win titles but not with that football.
“The surprising thing with Pep was when he was manager of Barca I saw the best Barca team in every aspect of football.
“The standard there was, and is, always high but he made it 200 per cent better in every aspect.
“I know the people of Holland really enjoyed watching Barca and then Bayern Munich because it’s a different way of football.
“We like to see a team play attractive football, to dominate. Sometimes that’s risky but that’s football that I like.”
– First challenge –
Everton visit Premier League leaders City with Guardiola facing his first real challenge since arriving from Bayern Munich in the close-season.
After opening the season with 10 consecutive victories in all competitions, City have drawn at Celtic in the Champions League and lost for the first time under Guardiola, 2-0 at Tottenham in their last outing.
“City have been very good – maybe not the last game, but it is impressive how they play football,” added Koeman.
“I watched them against (Borussia) Moenchengladbach in the Champions League and it was a good job to see the difference between how they play this season and last.
“That’s difficult for defending against. But we have had some good examples of teams getting a good result against City.”
Like City, Everton have only lost once in the league this season, going down 1-0 at Bournemouth late last month.
And City’s Brazilian midfielder Fernando insists his side must recover quickly from their own first taste of defeat.
“We need to learn from that defeat and return to winning ways again so it’s vital we get back to playing the way we have been,” he said.
“We need to start much better than we did at White Hart Lane and we’re all keen to put that game behind us because we were a long way from our best.
“It’s always a difficult game against Everton but our goal is always the same – to try and win the game and play good football.
“They’ve started well and have looked really good. They are just four points behind us which is an indication of how good a job Ronald Koeman has done.
“They have made one or two signings and they have a strong squad so we know they’ll be a threat.”
City’s main injury concern surrounds Belgian midfielder Kevin de Bruryne , who will probably miss the Everton clash in a bid to be fit for Tuesday’s key Champions League meeting with Barcelona.
Meanwhile, Koeman has been boosted by the return to fitness of Romelu Lukaku , Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines, while James McCarthy faces a late fitness test.