Ever since speculation swirled about the futures of Louis van Gaal and Manuel Pellegrini last season, the clash between Jose Mourinho, the figurehead of Manchester United, and Pep Guardiola, the savvy tactician at the helm of Manchester City, has been anticipated.
The dynamic between these fierce rivals is poised to add another razor sharp edge to an already spiky fixture.
With the rising stock of City, the battles for titles down the years and the major investment done by both parties in the summer window, it’s a critical contest. The fact Guardiola and Mourinho have each steered their respective sides to three wins in as many matches makes for further intrigue.
It’s rare for two managers to steal the spotlight from the stars on the field, especially given the talents bursting from these squads. But the needle between the two in the past has been explosive, dating back to Mourinho’s Inter Milan eliminating Guardiola’s Barcelona from the UEFA Champions League in 2010 and fuelled further when the former made the move to Real Madrid later that year.
In terms of persona, footballing ethics and popularity, the two are polar opposites and it’s going to be a treat to watch the men representing each illustrious coach face off in what is one of the English game’s most passionate rivalries.
Here’s a look at the key details for the contest, a closer examination of each side and an on-field battle that’ll likely decide this clash.
Manchester United: It’s been a solid start to life at Old Trafford for Mourinho and you sense he’ll be delighted with the manner in which things have gone in the nascent stages of his tenure.
Last time out, in particular, the Red Devils toiled for long spells against a resolute Hull City. But Marcus Rashford’s late, late goal not only handed United three points, but a great deal of momentum too. The boost that kind of victory will give all tied to the club is invaluable.
Plenty seem buoyed by the presence of the new boss as well. While United have recruited well with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly, Mourinho has brought the best from players who were expected to be out of favour; Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata and Antonio Valencia have been especially impressive.
It’ll be the big players Mourinho looks to in this fixture, though. Ibrahimovic has a talismanic aura about him, while Pogba will be expected to move through the gears again after his nifty beginning to his second stint with the club.
Rashford will be a major asset too. He netted the winner in his first Manchester derby and scored a brilliant hat-trick for the England Under 21s in midweek; whether off the bench or in the starting XI, expect the teenager to have another big say on matters here.
Typically, in the key games, Mourinho sets his sides up to be pragmatic and limit space for the opposition. But with so much attacking quality at his disposal, it’ll be fascinating to see if he can resist the urge to throw absolutely everything at City in front of a baying Old Trafford crowd.
Manchester City: Guardiola would have definitely preferred to go into his first ever Manchester derby with Sergio Aguero to call upon. Finding a way of besting United without the Argentina international will be a huge test of the manager’s tactical acumen.
Like Mourinho, Guardiola has helped bring the very best out of some players who previously struggled at City, the most notable being Raheem Sterling. The England man has excelled so far in the Premier League, although with Aguero out, the manager may opt to move him from his berth on flank into a more central role.
Other options up front will be Nolito and Kelechi Iheanacho, who is the most natural fit, if not a little raw. Finding an attacking balance that can trouble this combative United defense will be key to City making their possession count.
It’ll also be intriguing to see how other facets of the City XI function before what’ll be a white-hot atmosphere. John Stones has been steady so far, although he’s yet to come up against an attack possessing as much class as the Red Devils. Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is set for a baptism of fire too, as he’s set to make his first appearance since making the switch from Barcelona.
The midfield trio of Kevin de Bruyne, Fernandinho and David Silva have also functioned fluently under Guardiola. In this fixture, the new manager will want to see the former and the latter marry some defensive industry with their intensity on the ball, especially if one of them is moved wide in a rejigged setup.
It’s also imperative some leaders emerge for City. With no Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure or Aguero to call upon, the men in sky blue will be without the spine that’s steered them to so many victories in this fixture down the years. It’s the ideal venue for one of this new City generation to make an emphatic mark.