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José Mourinho was up to his old tricks last week by taunting yet another assistant coach. Then again, that is a huge behavioural improvement from the proper managers who were picked on with during the Portuguese's first year at the Santiago Bernabeu such as Manuel Preciado and Manuel Pellegrini. However, this time around, the Madrid boss was on dangerous ground by entangling himself with the heavy-set Germán 'Mono' Burgos, during last weekend's derby win.
The crowd and TV viewers saw the Atlético Madrid assistant boss and former goalkeeper in a bit of a spat with the Madrid bench. According to 'El Mundo', Burgos was warning Mourinho that "I'm not Tito, I'll rip your head off". Two days later during the Champions League press conference ahead of the Ajax clash, Mourinho asked "Who is Mono Burgos?" when quizzed on the event.
It was a throwback to a season-and-a-half ago during a feisty Spanish Super Cup clash at the Camp Nou when Mourinho famously fondled the eye socket of Barça's number two, then denied any knowledge of a certain 'Pito' Vilanova - an insult in itself with 'Pito' being Spanish slang for a man's private parts.
The moment that Mourinho ended up serving absolutely no punishment for, rather incredibly, has largely been forgotten in the endless soap opera of La Liga but the Madrid manager's apparent knowledge gap this week was a reminder that Tito has already had his revenge on his counterpart at the Santiago Bernabeu. And then some.
The league table shows that Barcelona are an enormous 11 points ahead of Real Madrid, with December having only just arrived. The Catalan club have only dropped two points in the entire campaign - the 2-2 draw with Real Madrid in the Camp Nou. This run sees the side having broken the record for the greatest start in the history of La Liga with 13 victories and one draw, a milestone previously held by Real Madrid from the 1991-92 season.
It's a remarkable achievement, but especially so by a rookie boss. However, it hasn't really provoked more than a gentle pat on the back of congratulations in Spain as it all seems to have been completely effortless despite a few wobbles during a period when the team were fielding defenders who had minimum experience in the back-line. Indeed, Vilanova himself seemed completely underwhelmed by the accolade claiming that it was the performance of the players in the 5-1 win over Athletic Bilbao that saw the milestone being reached, that was more pleasing rather than what the result signified.
Whilst a pooped-out Pep Guardiola moved to Manhattan to hide in plain sight, his replacement wouldn't need to go too far away at all to go missing, such is the low profile that the current Barça coach has adopted. Tito has dodged controversies and has refused to be the foil that his counterpart at the Santiago Bernabeu so badly needs. "I wasn't upset when Mourinho said he didn't know me," said Vilanova when probed on his reaction to the Mono Burgos incident.
Every controversial topic - that means pretty much every topic going in the hysterical Spanish football world - has been straight-batted by Tito, from the lack of defenders in the squad, the early outburst of discontent from Cesc Fabregas, Leo Messi's record, the eternal lack of a plan 'B' and a lack of height at set-pieces. "If we signed bigger players then we wouldn't play so well," was the simple explanation for this particular defect.
Assistants stepping up into the main role more often than not ends in failure such are the differing demands from coaching to leading. It was the case for Vilanova multiplied by a billion when the coach had to take over from Guardiola with not everyone in the Camp Nou convinced that it was the right move to make. The new Barça boss had to make a solid start to the season to win over any doubters and it's mission accomplished so far by some margin.
Vilanova hasn't imposed too many tactical changes to the team and has been blessed by the return of David Villa up front and a particularly good period of form for Andrés Iniesta and Pedro. Nevertheless, this was balanced out with injury problems at the back and the failing Alexis Sánchez up front.
Tito's approach has been to not break what didn't really need fixing. Rather than anything wrong with the tactics of the Barça players last season, they were mentally jaded, as seen in sloppy away form in comparison with the near flawless performances of Real Madrid on the road. However, the tables have turned in the current campaign with Barça fighting for every ball and Mourinho complaining about a lack of effort and compromise from his own players. "They have the same power, the same style, the same sensation and constant danger with any type of ball in any area of the pitch," noted Marcelo Bielsa after last Saturday's 5-1 defeat.
This much-needed mental reboot of the team was partly inspired by the need to avenge last season's La Liga title defeat but also due to a fresh head at the helm. After four years in charge of Barcelona, Guardiola was jaded and exhausted. The fresh-faced enthusiasm of the coach in 2009 was replaced by frowns and frustration, with the Barça boss allowing the mind games of Mourinho get the better of him. Vilanova has chosen to shut out Real Madrid and Mourinho completely.
"Tito has won the dressing room over. He has something special," said Gerard Piqué. "I knew him when I was a youngster and he was top-class, but now he's a copy of what he once was. In press conferences, for example, he does everything quite naturally. We are expecting some great years with him at the helm."
Vilanova was expected to be a tougher, more challenging presence to Guardiola - the bad cop of pair. Instead, he has taken a leading from behind approach, allowing his players to take more responsibility. The former assistant has been happy to avoid the limelight.
At an away clash against Getafe in September, when the Barça boss had been banished to the stands serving a suspension, your correspondent was sat just a few seats behind him. Vilanova had snuck in as late as possible and it took a few looks across the line to make sure that it was the Barça boss himself sitting on the edge of the row.
During the match, the Catalan manager showed no emotion, no signs of frustration or happiness during the 4-1 win. When the final whistle went, Vilanova was gone just as quickly as if he had never even been there. It was a low key approach that has been followed throughout the campaign, but one that has worked in leading Barcelona to a best ever start in the history of La Liga.