THERE is no doubt that Manchester United start as favourites to win the derby today. And as likely as that may be, one should not doubt that Manchester City will resist defeat as much as they can, and may yet spring a surprise at Old Trafford.
This is the biggest, and everything points to it being the fiercest game of the new campaign.
These sides have been installed to finish first and second in the English Premier League this season and City get a marginal nod from the bookies in this respect.
Both clubs have 100% records thus far (three wins from three) and City again have their noses in front, if only by virtue of a superior goal difference.
Both teams have new managers, brought in to drive them to glory at home and in Europe – Jose Mourinho leading the red half of Manchester and Pep Guardiola leading the Etihad faithful.
Both will do their utmost to win today’s clash, that’s for sure. But both will try even harder not to lose it.
Many a football purist has mentioned a stalemate between the two teams ahead of the encounter and an equal number, or thereabouts, has hyped up the coming together, or confrontation, of Mourinho and Guardiola.
These are two battle-weary generals whose paths have crossed before and have the scars to show for it. The record, though, has the Spaniard with a slight edge over Mourinho – something that will merely serve to pile even more pressure on the sometimes volatile and eccentric Portuguese boss.
Regarded as among the three best coaches in world football, Mourinho and Guardiola will not have dwelt on the pointed debates generated by the English media and on social media, stuff of which there have been loads and loads over the past couple of weeks.
Instead, these two wily tacticians will have spent hours on end plotting different strategies on how to topple the other.
And as many have suggested, this could well lead to the midfields cancelling each other out and thus, turn what should be? a cracker of a match into a sorrowful stalemate.
The school of thought that advocates an explosive tie between the two teams, who will be bent on trying to vanquish the other, makes a lot of sense and is one that I subscribe to.
Indeed, given the millions of pounds both spent in the off-season, not in the least the world record £89mil Man United coughed up for Paul Pogba, they’ll be keen on justifying the outlays and trying to gain psychological edge over the other early on in the season.
If for no other reason, the absence of striker Sergio Aguero, will have lifted the spirits of Man United in untold measure.
The prolific Argentine striker starts a three-match ban with this game, sanctioned for violent conduct in the Citizens’ win over West Ham a fortnight ago.
Teenager ?Kelechi Iheanacho is expected to lead the line of attack for the visiting team. And while Old Trafford might look to this scenario and rub their hands in glee, the Nigerian lad may yet show the world just how much potential he really has and why Man City have invested so much in him.
Chilean international goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is tipped for a first XI slot and would make his debut for the Citizens after his high-profile move from Barcelona.
But the trio who Mourinho would have singled out for special attention is City’s in-from England winger Raheem Sterling, Spain midfield maestro and Brazilian linkman Fernandinho.
Sterling has been excellent from the start this term – rebounding excellently after a torrid time at the European Championships.
Silva’s troublesome ankles appear to be holding out (for now) and that’s partly why he has been their best player in these early days.
Two goals in an international friendly followed by another two in Spain’s World Cup qualifier five days later underscored “Merlin's” superlative form.
Fernandinho, for his part, has worked tirelessly for the team, as he always does. And in a game as big as this, it is his experience and ability to influence the tide that could make the difference between the two powerhouses.
Needless to say, if Fernandinho were to figure prominently in a team display such as that which saw City rip Man United apart in their own backyard in 2011, it could be the start of him navigating a long trail of success under Guardiola.
And as much as the Old Trafford fans might deny, there is not a Man United soul on this planet who does not remember City rolling into the Theatre of Dreams and leaving the Red Devils with nightmares after the 6-1 battering they were made to endure.
History is unlikely to repeat itself today, but we could be in for a marvellous advertisement of the Premier League, played by the two teams who are contenders for the title itself.