Football: An old rivalry kicks off the start of a new Manchester era

Chelsea's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho (left) reacting during the UEFA Super Cup football on Aug 30 and Bayern Munich's Spanish head coach Pep Guardiola during the match against FC Cologne on Sept 27.
Chelsea's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho (left) reacting during the UEFA Super Cup football on Aug 30 and Bayern Munich's Spanish head coach Pep Guardiola during the match against FC Cologne on Sept 27. PHOTOS: AFP

It promises to be the defining rivalry of the next few years. Not just Manchester United against Manchester City, but Jose Mourinho against Pep Guardiola.

A tactical battle has been imported from El Clasico. So has a feud, one instigated by the Portuguese.

Manchester should stage an epic contest over 90 minutes and over a campaign when both sides have their sights set on the title.

With the starting XIs set to cost a combined £600 million (S$1.08 billion), this should be the world's most expensive game. Big spenders have immaculate records, with three wins from three games apiece. Something has to give.

If United start as favourites, it is because of three factors: home advantage, the absence of Sergio Aguero and the sense today may have come too soon for City.

While United already look a Mourinho team and City a Guardiola side, the reality is that three of the Catalan's signings - Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane and Claudio Bravo - are yet to debut. His captain Vincent Kompany has not figured this season and his star forward is suspended.

The prolific Aguero begins a three-match ban for elbowing West Ham's Winston Reid. It leaves City either with a callow striker, in Kelechi Iheanacho, or with Guardiola rewinding time to his Barcelona days to field a false nine.

It was a ploy that worked well then, partly because the false nine in question was Lionel Messi.

City's squad contains many candidates - Nolito, Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva - but none of the same stature.

In contrast, United are likely to keep their callow striker in reserve, despite Marcus Rashford's stoppage-time winner at Hull, while selecting an authentic, experienced striker.

If Mourinho harbours a grudge against Guardiola, so does Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose solitary season at Barcelona ended unhappily.

The Swede was shifted out of his favoured central position to accommodate Messi. Few would savour a goal against Guardiola more.

Few, perhaps, would treasure a clean sheet more than Mourinho.

The certainty is that City will have more possession. The question is what will United do to ensure they do not make it tell.

At Real, Mourinho would field three defensive midfielders against Barcelona. At Inter Milan, he progressed from a Champions League semi-final second leg despite having just 24 per cent of possession and only 10 men.

Perhaps United will be content to operate on the counter-attack.

Guardiola may consider sacrificing one of his five attack-minded players because City have been sufficiently open that they have conceded in every league game so far.

They will feature, in Bravo, among the shortest goalkeepers in the league. United are a huge team. They may look to test him at set pieces.

It will certainly represent an examination, of managers, expensive signings and title credentials alike. It may shape this season. It may shape the next three.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2016, with the headline 'An old rivalry kicks off the start of a new Manchester era'. Print Edition | Subscribe