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NO HOLDS BARRED

Rivals Mourinho and Guardiola lock horns again

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GEARING UP FOR THE KICK-OFF: The derby has garnered extra attention because it will see Mourinho (left) renew his fierce rivalry with Guardiola (right).
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GEARING UP FOR THE KICK-OFF: Manchester City's English defender John Stones (in blue) and Steaua Bucharest's Romanian striker Alexandru Tudorie.

THERE is little need to hype up the English Premier League's (EPL) Manchester derby. This is an explosive football fixture that captivates the sporting world, and this Saturday's battle at Old Trafford - the 172nd meeting between old rivals Manchester United and Manchester City - will be no different.

It's a match featuring the two most lavishly assembled squads in British football, coached by two of the world's most decorated and revered managers, with each desperate to protect their team's perfect start to the new season.

All week long, the British tabloids have been trumpeting the fact that this will be the most expensive match in the sport with a whopping £670 million (S$1.2 billion) worth of talent on display.

In the red corner, you've got French star Paul Pogba, who broke the British football transfer record when he moved from Italian giants Juventus to Manchester United for £89 million.

Pogba, a former youth player at United, is one of four superstars that Jose Mourinho, the Red Devils' manager who joined in May, recruited this summer for a total of £145 million.

The others are versatile midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan (who is unlikely to feature because of injury), defender Eric Bailly, and the goalscoring machine Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Over in the blue corner of the field, the star-studded Manchester City team boast the likes of Kevin De Bruyne (the club's record signing at £55 million), John Stones (the world's second most costly defender at £47.5 million), and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who is in line to make his debut at the home of City's most heated rivals.

One player who is definitely out is City's red-hot striker Sergio Aguero. He is serving the first of a three-match suspension after being charged for violent conduct in his last match against West Ham.

Whoever Mourinho and Manchester City's manager Pep Guardiola decide to field in their respective starting line-ups, they will be aware that this game, only the fourth match of the 2016/17 EPL season, represents a golden opportunity to land an early blow and gain that all-important psychological advantage.

Both clubs had a disappointing campaign last season by their lofty standards - City finished in fourth place, above United in fourth place by virtue of a better goal difference.

They have come out with all guns blazing this season. City have three wins in three after beating Sunderland, Stoke City and West Ham, while United also possess a 100 per cent record with wins against Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull City.

Something will have to give on Saturday. The derby has garnered extra attention because it will see Mourinho renew his fierce rivalry with Guardiola, exactly 1,106 days after their last managerial tussle.

That was when Mourinho was still Chelsea manager and Guardiola was in charge at Bayern Munich. Their teams met in the 2013 UEFA Super Cup, with Bayern winning the match on penalty kicks after the scores were tied 2-2 after extra time.

In 16 meetings between the two managers over the years, Mourinho has won just three while Guardiola has come out on top seven times. The other six meetings ended in draws.

Their 17th game in Manchester has all the ingredients for a fascinating tussle, but it's anyone's guess how the game will eventually pan out.

The Manchester derbies are usually very tense and cagey affairs. There's the immense desire to win, but also the overwhelming fear of making a mistake that will lose the match.

The previous two derbies produced just one goal in 180 minutes of action. After a dull 0-0 draw at Old Trafford last October, United made the short journey to City's Etihad Stadium where their 18-year-old Marcus Rashford grabbed all the headlines with the winning goal.

There have been some blockbuster matches in recent years. In April 2015, United crushed their neighbours, then the reigning EPL champions, 4-2 in what was a dominant performance by the men in red.

Few will also forget the crazy night in October 2011 when City sauntered into the home of their rivals and blasted six goals to seal a lopsided 6-1 result.

Two years before that, there was pandemonium when Manchester United's Michael Owen scored deep into injury time - the 96th minute, to be precise - to win the game 4-3, shattering City's resistence and hearts in the process.

Local bookmaker Singapore Pools thinks that United will make the most of home advantage to get the win on Saturday. You can double your money if you fancy the Red Devils to get all three points, and triple your bet if you think City will get the job done.

Expect both teams to go all out to get the win that will give them bragging rights over the weekend and, more importantly, an early foothold in the EPL title race.

  • The match will be broadcast "live" on Singtel TV Channel 103 and StarHub TV Channel 228 at 7.25pm on Saturday.