All eyes on the $1B Derby

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba (left), the most expensive footballer following an £89 million (S$160.25 million) transfer from Juventus, speaking with team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Both of Jose Mourinho's new signings have been the talk of
Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba (left), the most expensive footballer following an £89 million (S$160.25 million) transfer from Juventus, speaking with team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Both of Jose Mourinho's new signings have been the talk of the city of Manchester, which is set to host a derby with £600 million worth of talent.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Manchester United and rivals City will do battle in the most expensive football match

LONDON • In the land where cash is king, prepare for the ultimate demonstration of the English Premier League's wealth and power.

For all the inevitable focus on the geniuses in direct conflict in the respective dugouts, the one record that Saturday's Manchester derby is certain to break is that of the most expensive football match in history.

The two starting line-ups are predicted to cost just under £600 million (S$1.08 billion).

According to Sky Sports, the previous record was £562 million in the Spanish Primera Liga when Real Madrid lost 0-4 to Barcelona at the Bernabeu last November.

English football's modern success story is always measured in millions spent, billions earned and the number of people tuning in all over the world for the latest instalment of the Premier League soap opera. But if there is one thing that fans and viewers have a right to expect at Old Trafford on Saturday, it is quality.

Of the £1.2 billion gross transfer outlay (more than £600 million net) by the 20 top-flight clubs, almost a third was spent by the two Manchester clubs.

City followed the long-awaited capture of Pep Guardiola as manager by investing £168 million on players who suited his vision: John Stones, Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan, Gabriel Jesus and Nolito.

United's appointment of Jose Mourinho was followed by £145 million worth of surgery on the spine of their team: Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. And this before you take into account Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose arrival on a free transfer has cost them a small fortune in wages and associated costs.

There will be no Sergio Aguero on Saturday - the City forward is serving a three-match suspension after being found guilty by the Football Association of violent conduct - while Gundogan, Sane and Mkhitaryan are all expected to miss out due to injury. Still, the starting line-ups include six of the 12 most expensive signings recorded in England: Pogba (£89 million), Juan Mata (£37.1 million) and Anthony Martial (£36 million) for United; Kevin de Bruyne (£55 million), Stones (£47.5 million) and Raheem Sterling (£49 million) for City.

The big question is about how good these two teams and, to an extent, these individual players are.

There is pressure on Pogba to live up to the hype surrounding his world-record transfer fee. There is pressure on Claudio Bravo, City's new goalkeeper who is expected to make his debut after his £13.75 million transfer that led a deposed Joe Hart to move on loan to Torino.

There is pressure, always, on high-profile English players, few of whom attract quite so much scrutiny and debate as Stones, Sterling and Wayne Rooney.

And, of course, there is pressure on the two managers. Mourinho and Guardiola are always expected to live up to their own standards of football perfection - even without the extra dimension this time, having taken their rivalry to a city that does not seem quite big enough for the two of them.

More than anything, though, there is a pressure and expectation on the match and the spectacle.

For all its global popularity, the Premier League needs to deliver the world-class football that has been in such short supply from its leading clubs over recent seasons, as their Champions League travails have underlined all too clearly.

The hope is that, after all the transfer market excesses of the summer, as well as the investment in top-class coaches and managers, standards in the Premier League are elevated accordingly.

Saturday at Old Trafford would seem like the time and place to demonstrate what United, City and the Premier League have got for their money.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2016, with the headline 'All eyes on the $1B Derby'. Print Edition | Subscribe