Manchester United welcome city-rivals Manchester City to Old Trafford on Saturday in the first major derby of the new Premier League season.
The match is highly anticipated for a number of reasons; two of the most high-powered squads in European, never mind English football, two title contenders, two of the three teams that have taken full points from the first three matches, and of course the managers.
Pep Guardiola versus Jose Mourinho, a rivalry that has its roots from the time when the two were at Barcelona together, came to fruition during the period when Pep was managing Barça and Jose was at Real Madrid, and has now been transplanted to the Premier League.
The world’s two greatest managers in charge of two clubs in Manchester, one of which seeks to reclaim what it sees as its rightful place at the pinnacle of European football, another of which is still trying elbow its way to a permanent place at the table with the continent’s heavyweights.
There was once supposedly a time when Mourinho and Guardiola actually liked each other. And Pep for his part, seems to have extended at least the possibility of an olive branch, telling reporters he would have a post-match drink with Mourinho if invited. It’s of course been a few years since their rivalry boiled over into raw, public nastiness, during the final season the two remained in charge at Real and Barça respectively.
In the four years since, Guardiola has busied himself, first with a yearlong sabbatical in New York, and then with trying to transplant the ideas he pioneered at Barcelona to the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich. During that time, he’s not really spoken much about Mourinho, at least not without prompting.
Mourinho, on the other hand, can’t seem to resist the urge to poke the cage with a stick. Even after guiding Chelsea to the Premier League title in 2015, he couldn’t resist taking an unprompted potshot, telling reporters he “could have chosen another club in another country where it’s easier to be champions,” in an obvious dig at Guardiola at Bayern.
So much anticipation currently revolves around the two managers, it’s almost easy to forget that Saturday’s derby will pit two of the most talented and in-form sides in English football against one another. It will be the first really big Premier League match for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player who despite having already scored three goals this season, has been dogged by accusations of shirking from the big occasions.
On the other side, Guardiola and City will be without their star striker. With Sergio Aguero currently suspended, Pep may be inclined to deploy the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Nolito or Raheem Sterling in the “false nine” roll he successfully utilized with Lionel Messi at Barça and Thomas Muller at Bayern.
Manchester United takes on Manchester City at 7:30am ET Saturday on NBC Sports (available to Sling Blue subscribers).