Mourinho v Guardiola: Pep holds the upper hand, but can Jose’s United defence snuff out a City attack minus Sergio Aguero?
The English Premier League returns with a bang on Saturday at Old Trafford as the two managerial heavyweights renew their rivalry in the first Manchester derby of the new season
The English Premier League is back with a bang on Saturday night with a red-hot Manchester derby and a host of new players, signed just before the transfer window closed, in action.
The Manchester derby pits Jose Mourinho against Pep Guardiola for the first time in English football and it is a potentially incendiary encounter judging by their verbal and sometimes physical battles in Spain’s El Clasico matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
It is a moot point whether the Manchester derby is as big as El Clasico in the overall picture of world football, but right now it is all that matters for Mourinho and Guardiola and the result will carry at least psychological significance as their respective teams try to re-establish themselves as title winners.
The two managers went head-to-head for two seasons in Spain and there is no doubt Guardiola held the upper hand, with five wins, five draws and only one defeat in their final clash in 90 minutes.
At the time Barcelona were clearly the best team in Spain and, while the results in their favour were not that surprising, Mourinho dragged Real closer to their great rivals.
This time the two managers start on a more even footing and Mourinho may feel this is the first real opportunity to prove his tactical mastery over his younger rival.
How the match unfolds, both on the pitch and the sidelines, promises to be one of the season’s most compelling events.
Both Manchester clubs – along with Chelsea – have started with a perfect three wins from three games in the Premier League and, while it is early days, the table suggests City have the greater scoring power after netting nine goals compared to United’s six, but have United the better defence after conceding just one to City’s three.
Those statistics were predictable enough given the different outlooks of the two managers and this match is set-up as a battle between Mourinho’s suffocating approach and Guardiola’s more forward-thinking philosophy.
A simple rule of football betting is that the better defensive side is the one to back in tight-looking encounters between top teams, which points to United.
Mourinho certainly knows how to win big matches in England. In his two spells as Chelsea manager, he won 15 out of 21 home games against the other big clubs, and his sole defeat came last season against Liverpool when his reign at Stamford Bridge was unravelling fast.
United were a highly effective home team last season - one of the few plus points under Louis Van Gaal - and there is every chance that Mourinho can make Old Trafford a stronghold again.
Another key factor appears to be the absence of Sergio Aguero from the City attack, although it may be overplayed.
Virtually any side in the world would like Aguero in their attack, but City did not do too badly without him last season with a 56 per cent win rate - against 48 per cent when he played.
Guardiola may not worry too much as he is versed in playing without a recognised striker and has conjured plenty of threat from deeper-lying attackers such as Nolito and Raheem Sterling.
On the other side, Mourinho is spoiled for choice between Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has started his United career with a bang, and young gun Marcus Rashford.
The teenager also made an immediate mark when he came into the United side last season and he has carried his red-hot form into the new campaign.
Mourinho may not be able to resist the clamour for Rashford for too much longer, but for now he will stick with Ibrahimovic.
The manager knows the Swede will be desperate to exact revenge for the way he was treated by Guardiola at Barcelona, and more than that Ibrahimovic has settled straight into English football with four goals in four matches.
A potential problem for Mourinho is that Guardiola’s packing of midfield - preferring five in that area in his early games with City - may cause some adjustment to United’s 4-2-3-1 system that has accommodated Wayne Rooney behind Ibrahimovic.
United could be overwhelmed if Mourinho makes no change to his midfield set-up, but in expectation that he will get his tactics right the hosts are the choice for the win.
In the other Premier League matches, West Ham United look the best home bet and Tottenham Hotspur are the top pick for an away win. Bournemouth could also be decent value at home to West Brom, while the best long shot has to be Leicester away to Liverpool.
Leicester do not look significantly worse than Liverpool, if at all, and they will be a big threat on the counter-attack.
Bournemouth, QPR, Wolves, Torino.
West Ham home win
Will appreciate easier opposition
Tottenham away win
Excellent on the road
Huddersfield on handicap
League leaders have form edge
Newcastle on handicap
Quick recovery from sticky start
Wolfsburg home win
Look a team to follow
Matches since United lost at home to a big-six team