Mourinho vs Guardiola show the pre-derby talk of Manchester
LONDON: Mourinho United vs. Guardiola City. Or, as it's been known for the previous 171 games, the Manchester derby.
Never before in the 135-year history of the game has the intrigue and anticipation focused so much on the rivalry between the managers and their personal missions.
A build-up intensified due to the two-week Premier League break has often cast the players as the supporting act as two of soccer's greatest coaching minds compete for supremacy in the northern English city.
When they faced off in Spain, about 400 miles separated Pep Guardiola's Barcelona and Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid. Now, they're on opposite sides of town.
"I've played in derby games in Germany but this should be a great match and one I'm really looking forward to, especially because Pep Guardiola is taking on Jose Mourinho," said Leroy Sane, who joined City last month from Schalke. "It should be a special game and we can sense the expectation all around the city from our supporters. It's going to be exciting."
Of their nine meetings in Spain, Guardiola won five and Mourinho only two. Before then, when Mourinho was at Inter Milan, the Portuguese masterminded only one victory over Guardiola's Barcelona and lost two of the other three encounters.
The duo spent the offseason trying to downplay any tensions, including dismissing speculative, goading inquiries about whether they would shake hands before a friendly in Beijing that had to be postponed because of bad weather.
Both Mourinho's United and Guardiola's City are putting perfect starts on the line, but it's only the fourth round of the Premier League, resuming after the break for World Cup qualifying.
Guardiola's derby plans were disrupted by top scorer Sergio Aguero being suspended, with 19-year-old striker Kelechi Iheanacho the only direct replacement available.
The Spanish coach does now have his preferred goalkeeper on hand after exiling Joe Hart on loan to Torino and bringing in Claudio Bravo from Barcelona. The 33-year-old Bravo has been on international duty and will have little time to train with his new team, making his selection far from certain on Saturday.
Bravo has been the subject of friendly teasing from United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
"Here's some training gear, you're going to need it," the Swede wrote alongside an Instagram video showing him putting the kit in a parcel addressed to Bravo.
But Ibrahimovic's own starting place looks less secure given the impact made by Marcus Rashford for both United and England in recent weeks. Before the international break, the 18-year-old forward snatched three points for United by coming off the bench to score a stoppage-time winner at Hull. On England under-21 duty, he then scored a hat trick on his debut this week.
"That's all you want to do as a young player, give your manager a decision about whether to play you," Rashford said. "I'm just looking forward to it."
Here is a look at other talking points in the Premier League this weekend:
Liverpool played its first three games of the season on the road, gaining four points as builders were occupied at home.
Now the Merseyside club is ready to return to Anfield and play in front of the newly renovated main stand for the first time when Leicester visits on Saturday.
The capacity is rising to more than 54,000, with an additional 8,500 Liverpool fans now accommodated after the Fenway Sports Group scrapped the plans by previous American owners to build a completely new venue.
"That's more power and we should use this," Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said.
Like Liverpool, defending champion Leicester has won once, drawn once and lost once so far. Record signing Islam Slimani is set to make his Leicester debut even though the striker hasn't had a chance to train with his new teammates.
Mauricio Pochettino is relieved to have signed midfielder Christian Eriksen to a new contract with Tottenham through 2020.
Tottenham is unbeaten but has drawn twice and only won once so far this season.