After a cancelled pre-season fixture and months of tabloid focus on the enmity between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, we will finally get to see how these two expensively assembled teams handle each other. Once again Manchester has become the power centre of English football and to many this game is starting to look like an early title decider. Both sides have made rapid starts with three wins each from their first three fixtures. City can claim the more resounding victories after putting four past Stoke and three past West Ham. United have regained their confidence and shown signs that their winning mentality is returning. New signings in the red half of Manchester have bedded in well and the last gasp winner against a stubborn Hull City may look ominous for their rivals. The new arrivals in Pep’s squad are yet to feature but could provide a boost for the rest of the season. A massive game for the red and blue halves of Manchester this may be. Yet most of the neutrals will be tuning in to see round 1 of what is likely to become a season-long scrap between the diametrically opposed forces in each dugout.
Manager: Pep Guardiola
The most sought-after coach in the world, Pep Guardiola has become the standard that young managers around the world aspire to. Renowned for his brand of possession-based football, Guardiola raised the bar in Europe and developed a style that was almost unplayable. His Barcelona gave Manchester United a footballing lesson in two European finals. But this style of play may be more difficult to maintain in the break-neck pace of the Premier League. If he is having trouble adjusting, it is yet to show. City has struck out as one of the form teams of the early season and are yet to drop points. It his first taste of one of England’s most bitter rivalries but he has had a good education for such an atmosphere when managing El Classico matches.
However, the derby presents the first real test for both sides and how they perform on Saturday lunch time will be revealing. Taking on the Manchester City job also represents the first real test In Pep Guardiola’s career. While Mourinho has proven his credentials across different leagues and countries, Guardiola’s career so far has been at the helm of teams already at the top of their game. His trophy hauls and coaching prowess are indisputable. Yet he has spent the past decade managing the best players and club sides in a generation. He is yet to show he can elevate a lesser team to greatness. After a disappointing fourth-place finish last season, Guardiola faces a tough test returning City to the top. Whether he can do that may define his reputation as a manager.
Steaua Bucharest 0-5 Manchester City
Stoke City 1-4 Manchester City
Manchester City 1-0 Steaua Bucharest
Manchester City 3-1 West Ham United
Predicted Starting XI
Key Player: Raheem Sterling
The absence of Sergio Aguero is a huge blow to Manchester City. As one of the best forwards in the country, if not the world, he has proven himself the difference in this fixture before. In his absence, someone will have to step up to fill the void and prove themselves a match winner. Raheem Sterling had an indifferent start to life as a city player but recently he has begun to resemble the player City spent so much. His inflated price tag seemed to weigh heavily on the youngster in his first season and he continued his lacklustre form on the international stage during a disastrous Euro 2016 campaign. With a full pre-season behind him and the pressure off, Sterling has started quickly and established himself in Pep’s first eleven. During a match that will be won and lost on small margins, his threat from wide areas, ability to run at and take on players could prove the difference. Sterling may be the first real test for the United full-backs who have been concerned with attacking thus far. Both the resurgent Valencia and new signing Eric Bailly will need to maintain their impressive form to keep him under control.
Manchester United 1-0 Manchester City
The hype surrounding this match already has many thinking of it as a title decider. Yet these early season clashes rarely live up to expectation. For evidence of this, see Jose Mourinho’s first match against Manchester United after his return to Chelsea. United, champions at the time and Chelsea contested a joyless match at Old Trafford with both teams content to avoid defeat. With so much at stake, it is likely this match will be no different. Both coaches would be happy to take a point and postpone the real hostilities until the latter stages of the season. That being said, if there is one factor that could swing a tight derby, either way, it could be the public disdain between Pep Guardiola and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It is no secret the two did not hit it off at Barcelona. As a player who has turned confounding the doubters into an art form, Zlatan will be eager to do the same in front of his old manager. With their captain and defensive linchpin Vincent Kompany missing, Ibrahimovic will be ideally placed to take advantage. The slightest error by new signing Stones or Otamendi could be enough for the Swede to capitalise. United’s budding defensive partnership of Bailly and Blind will find this game a sterner test. But the absence of Aguero will make theirs the easier day of the two rear guards. This will be a tight match that neither coach will want to lose and one goal may be enough to take home all three points.