Will Manchester bleed red or blue this season?
Saturday will witness the first Manchester derby of the season, and the long-awaited resumption of the personal duel between Mourinho and Guardiola
Just three games, and the defining narrative of the 2016/17 Premier League season has already been established. With both Manchester City and Manchester United notching three wins from their first three outings, the title race already appears to be something of a race between two clubs. Now they meet each other.
Saturday will witness the first Manchester derby of the season, and the long-awaited resumption of the personal duel between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. One is in charge of City, the other United, with both managers already dominating the English football agenda over the past few months. If the duo are considered the vanguard of their generation, this will be a clash for the ages.
Rivalries are the consequence of history, and no two managers have history like Mourinho and Guardiola. In Spain, in charge of Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, they defined a premiership. Now they will do the same in the Premier League. The story has already been plotted, with Saturday’s match the start of another chapter.
Until now, the resumed rivalry has been fairly amiable. The two men have kept each other at arm’s length so far, with Guardiola saying he is yet to even watch a Manchester United game this season. That will surely change this weekend.
While Chelsea have also recorded three wins from three games to start the season, City and United look to be that little bit stronger at the top of the Premier League table. They have both made an ominous start, with Saturday’s derby holding the potential to set the tone for the campaign ahead. Even at this early stage, there is plenty at stake.
However, while they have both started well, there is a compelling contrast between the two Manchester clubs. City remain a work in progress, as Guardiola instills his famed ideology in the club’s squad of recently assembled players. The Etihad Stadium side tailored things to the Catalan’s exact specifications over the summer, but there are a number of moving parts yet to settle.
That much has been obvious in City’s opening few performances this season. Guardiola has led his side to the Champions League group stage and top spot in the Premier League, with components clicking most successfully in attack, but there are still soft spots to the Abu Dhabi-owned team. There is a long way to go before Guardiola can truly label this side one of his best.
United, on the other hand, look in sync with the character of their new manager. Much like their rivals, the Old Trafford side have yet to play their best football, but they have showcased a resilience and consistency that will serve them well as they chase down a first league title in four years. It is easy to see Mourinho’s influence on United.
Just like he was at Real Madrid, the Portuguese coach has been appointed by United to bring down Guardiola. He, more than anyone else, gets under the skin of the Catalan, with the Old Trafford side seeking Mourinho’s services almost as soon as Guardiola was announced as City’s next boss back in February. United want Mourinho to be a dynasty destroyer, and he will have his first opportunity to do damage this weekend.
However, Saturday’s match will be watched with only one eye on the pitch. The other will be trained on the touchline, where Mourinho and Guardiola will tread just yards away from one another.
It seems unlikely that the personal duel will reach the toxic zenith it did at times in La Liga - Mourinho probably will not poke anyone in the eye - but it will still prove fascinating to observe the body language of two men who clearly have much time for each other. A simmering contest could come to the boil.
Both men have been given the freedom to forge their respective clubs in the mould of their own individual personalities. That presents an intriguing proposition for the years, and maybe even generation, ahead. Saturday’s Manchester derby will not just set the course of a race run over the next season, but over a much longer time.