Manchester Derby: Clash of egos
Mourinho desperate to put poor record against Guardiola behind him
MAN UNITED v MAN CITY
(Tonight, 7.25pm, Singtel TV Ch 103 & StarHub TV Ch 228)
Old Trafford readies itself for a seismic clash.
You can bet that in his office at Manchester United's Carrington training complex, Jose Mourinho would have had Sept 10 marked out on his calendar on his first day of appointment.
Tonight, he resumes his rivalry with his fiercest foe.
Mourinho will lead United to battle against arch-rivals City, now managed by Pep Guardiola.
It has been more than four years since the pair last crossed swords in La Liga representing Spain's two biggest clubs, Mourinho for Real Madrid and Guardiola for Barcelona.
Their professional club allegiances might have shifted, but the rivalry hasn't lost its lustre.
It is Mourinho who is likely to be still haunted by ghosts from the past.
His El Clasico record resembles a hideous smudge on an otherwise impressive CV.
OLD FOES: Jose Mourinho (above), then as Real Madrid coach in this 2012 photo, has a poor record in the La Liga against his Barcelona counterpart Pep Guardiola. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES
In Spain, the Special One not only met his match, but it also turned out to be something of a mismatch.
Of the 11 battles between the pair during the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons, Mourinho won just two (although he won the league championship with Real in the second season).
The first exchange ended in humiliation, as the Catalan outfit thumped his side 5-0.
A few months later, the simmering feud exploded into an all-out war when Real Madrid played Barcelona four times over an 18-day spell in April and May 2011, featuring expletive-filled press conferences, an eye-gouge and an unprecedented level of animosity between the two clubs.
But, tonight, he starts on a clean slate.
Mourinho, announced as the United manager in May, wasted no time in rebooting the system at the Theatre of Dreams.
And the Red Devils have been equally eager to back him.
A summer of crazy spending has seen the club splash out £145 million ($262.3m) to get the 53-year-old Portuguese the players he wants - Paul Pogba (£89m), Eric Bailly (£30m), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£26m) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (free transfer).
The Louis van Gaal mantra of death by possession has given way to his trademark direct game.
A deep defence focuses on making as few mistakes as possible, while at the other end, the emphasis is on winning the ball back and attacking the opposing backline before the defensive midfielders can return to help out.
His style contrasted significantly with Guardiola's more intricate and subtle approach, but it is undeniably and devastatingly effective.
He has made a perfect start to his United career with three wins in three Premier League games.
The Red Devils are level on points with Guardiola's City, who are top of the table on goal difference.
The drooping spirits that plagued the team during van Gaal's tenure have been replaced by a spring in their steps.
The confidence is certainly back.
There was even a "Fergie-time" goal by Marcus Rashford for good measure, when they beat Hull away about two weeks ago, with the youngster's winner in injury time clinching them all three points in a 1-0 victory.
While it is too early to make bold predictions about United this term, it is clear the signs are looking extremely good.
Mourinho's immediate task is to ensure they are back in the Champions League next season.
And, given his superb record of winning league titles in every country he has managed, a Premier League triumph in his first season at United is not out of the question, too.
But again, Guardiola, with his powerful-looking City in tow, is standing in his way. Their paths are crossing once more.
Mourinho will be desperate to draw first blood.
When Aguero is available, we know their formation and their dynamics — nobody has doubts. But now he doesn't play, they have an amazing squad in terms of options and there are many things (Guardiola) could do.
— Jose Mourinho believes Manchester City could be a more difficult proposition without the suspended Sergio Aguero