Manchester, United Kingdom, Sep 9 – Manchester becomes the centre of the football universe on Saturday when Jose Mourinho’s United tackle Pep Guardiola’s City in a feverishly anticipated local derby at Old Trafford.
The resumption of hostilities between two of the most celebrated coaches in the game tops the bill, with mega-money signings Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, John Stones and Claudio Bravo providing an all-star supporting cast.
Both teams have won all three of their Premier League fixtures to date and while Mourinho believes it is too early to consider the game in any way decisive, he is well aware the points could be precious in the title race.
“There are many ways to win titles,” said Mourinho, who fought a bitter three-year running battle with then Barcelona-coach Guardiola during his time at Real Madrid.
“Man United last season had very good results against the top teams and finished fifth.
“So sometimes it is not between the title contenders that you win or lose the title. Sometimes you win it by winning matches and matches and matches in the marathon between August to May.
“But obviously when you play against a title contender, the winning team wins three points and stops the other.
“So it is better to do that, or when you get a draw you accept you didn’t lose points to a direct contender. But this is too early — we are in the first week of September.”
The Premier League trophy spent four consecutive years in Manchester between 2011 and 2014, United winning it in 2011 and 2013 and City in 2012 and 2014.
But the Manchester clubs could not match Chelsea’s pace in 2015 and fell off the title map altogether last season, prompting seismic managerial changes on both sides of Manchester.
Guardiola and Mourinho are two of the three best-paid managers in world football — along with Carlo Ancelotti, Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich — and they were quick to get to work.
Both have renovated their squads in pointed fashion — Mourinho adding charisma and physical power, Guardiola prioritising youth and ball-playing ability.
And both have hit the ground running.
United are now a more direct side than under Louis van Gaal, Mourinho’s predecessor, and Guardiola, typically, will expect his side to dominate possession.
– Bravo debut –
“I want the ball, I want to attack as much as possible, I want to control the game and I want to concede few counter-attacks,” Guardiola said on Friday.
“I saw in the 10 days (of the international break) the four games and every game Manchester United played better than they did before. I think the same with us.
“They have a lot of talent up front. (Juan) Mata between the lines is so dangerous, the full-backs go so offensive and the quality of (Wayne) Rooney and Ibrahimovic.
“(Anthony) Martial is so, so fast and the set-pieces with tall guys is impossible to control. So they are a top team.”
Guardiola is expected to hand a debut to new Chilean goalkeeper Bravo following his arrival from Barcelona to supplant Joe Hart.
Close-season signings Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gundogan are now fit and could also make their debuts, while right-back Bacary Sagna has declared himself available after a hamstring problem.
But captain Vincent Kompany is doubtful as he continues his recovery from thigh surgery, while striker Sergio Aguero begins a three-match game for elbowing West Ham United’s Winston Reid.
New recruits Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly are all in contention for United.
It will be Pogba’s first major test since his world-record 89 million pounds ($118 million, 105 million euros) return from Juventus.
Ibrahimovic will relish coming up against Guardiola, having described him as a “spineless coward” after the pair clashed during the Swedish striker’s time at Barcelona.
Left-back Luke Shaw, right-back Antonio Valencia, midfielder Marouane Fellaini and playmaker Mkhitaryan have all been passed fit after injury scares on international duty.