Glasgow and Manchester become the scenes of intensity this weekend, as footballing rivalries are ignited and stoked when Rangers and Celtic, and City and United face off against each other once again.
Starting in Glasgow at 12pm on Saturday; it is the first derby to occur in the Scottish Premier League since Rangers were relegated from the top flight in 2012, after the calamitous story of their finances came to light. Slowly but surely they have clambered their way back up to join their green and white counterparts. Mixing veteran with viscous, Mark Warburton’s side have made a decent, if less than spectacular, beginning to life back in the big time. Two wins and two draws in the opening four games is down to a wonderfully disciplined manner of play. Still a fair way from contributing to the supreme Glasweigan duopoly of old, they are nonetheless in with a shout of winning here.
This is in part down to the less than eminent start to Brendan Rodgers’ career at Parkhead. The embarrassing defeat his side encountered at the hands of Gibraltar part-timers Lincoln Red Imps may have been alleviated by his side making the Champions League group stage proper, but it nonetheless struck a ground-crashing chord in all Celtic fans who believed this season would be straightforward in some areas.
In truth, his side haven’t exactly struggled. Victories over Hearts, St Johnstone and Aberdeen have rather predictably seen them set the pace in the SPL. They have enjoyed the goals of Leigh Griffiths, and James Forrest has also hit the ground running in front of goals. Yet question marks still hang over the reliability of their defence, yet to keep a clean sheet this season. Truth be told, they have what it takes to continue to dominate the Scottish league. As much as Rangers want it, it won’t go their way this time.
Old rivalries and new faces are the talk of Manchester when the derby comes around on Saturday lunchtime. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have led the way in the Premier League, showing the rest of England the extent of their pedigree. Guardiola’s stylish, slick attacking has attracted a flurry of enthusiasm from City faithful who know they are seeing just why Sheikh Mubarak fought for years to bring him to the Etihad. His ability to fit Kevin deBruyne and David Silva in the same XI without it being detrimental to his vision, and his revitalisation of England Euro 2016 scapegoat Raheem Sterling are already achievements in themselves to be commended.
Brushing aside West Ham 3-1 and cruising to a 4-1 win at Stoke has been as hard as it gets for the Catalan. This will be his biggest challenge thus far; and he’ll have to do it without Sergio Aguero – the diminutive maestro serving a ban for elbowing Winston Reid in the victory over the Hammers. That isn’t to say second choice hitman Kelechi Iheanacho is not a threat, but Aguero’s quicksilver feet will be missed more than the bullish attacking threat Iheanacho adopts. Missing Aguero means City either use in-form Sterling as their attacking cog, or look to bank up and sustain pressure.
Jose Mourinho is a man who knows how to conquer Europe. Proof lies in Spain, Italy and at Stamford Bridge where perhaps he was most influential as a manager. At Old Trafford, he will look to do the same. Bringing in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba has done nothing but add ingenuity, spark and arrogance to a now supreme looking United side that can fancy themselves a little more in the wake of Aguero’s suspension and the ill health that has once again encapsulated talismanic blue Vincent Kompany.
United should look to attack, plain and simple. City losing three members of their ‘old guard’ in Aguero, Kompany, and the sacrificial legend Joe Hart means they are there for the taking. Ibrahimovic may be the golden God from Piccadilly to Eccles, but Marcus Rashford has by every means done enough to stake his place in the side. A hat trick in midweek on his England u21’s debut, and his winner at the Etihad in April during the last derby means he is ready should Mourinho invite him in.
A mindfully stimulating prospect in the works; United know they can win, and City know they have their work cut out a little more. They may just succeed defensively in the face of a United side still gelling, so – in as much as one can predict these results – a draw may be on the cards.