Karanka was part of Jose Mourinho’s coaching staff a decade ago when they went to war with Guardiola in order to disrupt his brand of tiki-taka football.
It should be calmer at The Etihad Stadium today where Karanka’s Birmingham will be massive underdogs sitting 18th in The Championship. He also thinks Guardiola has become more tactically flexible since coming to work in England.
Aitor Karanka will hope to lead Birmingham City to FA Cup victory at Manchester City
‘He is more complete now. At Barcelona or even City when he first arrived, he had one style,’ explained Karanka.
‘My Middlesbrough team drew 1-1 at The Etihad in his first year (2016). They played just one way, try to pass.
‘Now they are better. They have the same skills, they can still keep the ball, but also have players to run in behind and do transitions.
‘They can challenge for the first ball and win that second ball to hurt you. It’s even harder to play against them than in the past because they have more variety.’
Karanka believes his opposite number Pep Guardiola has improved while managing in England
Karanka once won an FA Cup tie with Middlesbrough at The Etihad when Manuel Pellegrini was in charge. But this looks a Herculean task with Birmingham winless in six matches and without a goal in three.
‘It’s going to be really difficult but it is impossible to win anything if you don’t believe it,’ said their ever-optimistic manager.
He worked under Mourinho for three years in Madrid before forging his own managerial career and clearly learned Mind Games from his former boss, insisting the stakes are higher for City.
‘They know they have to win not just the Carabao Cup but also the FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League. When you have that squad and coach, it’s pressure,’ he argued.
Karanka (centre right) was an assistant to Jose Mourinho (centre left) at Real Madrid
“I would love to have those players but when you have them, you have to win!’
Sergio Aguero is set to return to Manchester City’s starting line-up and he’s a player Karanka has followed since he went to Atletico Madrid from Argentina as a teenager.
‘For me, Sergio was, is and will be for a few years more one of the best players in the world,’ said Karanka.
‘He is the same player with the same quality as Atletico but with a lot more experience and knowing how to play here in England.
While at Madrid, Karanka and Mourinho were engaged in a rivalry with Barca boss Guardiola
‘It will be a tough job for us to stop him particularly with the players he has behind him. We have to be committed and well organised. Then the City team will have problems and Sergio will have problems to score.’
This is only the second time Manchester and Birmingham City have met in the FA Cup since the 1956 final when Manchester’s goalkeeper Bert Trautmann famously played on with a broken neck.
While his team have gone from strength to strength, Birmingham are at a low point in their history. Karanka was appointed in July to become the club’s sixth manager in three-and-a-half years under Hong Kong-based owners Trillion Trophy Asia.