A MERE four weeks after the scintillating World Cup final, English football fans are being treated to what could well be one of the most classic league fixtures in many a year.
The Manchester derby, the early kick-off today, pits two teams that seem evenly balanced in terms of confidence and depth of talent and have a serious desire to win.
For a long time now, Man City have gone into this derby with a lot more backing than the Red Devils, even if they did upset the form book along the way.
There is no denying City’s dominance in English football. Over the last 11 seasons, they have won the league six times, and that’s not to mention all the other silverware added to their trophy cabinet during this period.
For their part, Man United’s last league title was 10 years ago this year, and by any standard, that is a dismal return for a club that boasts of being the biggest in the world.
So, today’s clash will be about a lot more than just the three points. It would hand the winners a monumental psychological advantage over the other.
Man United appear to have a slight advantage over their “noisy neighbours”.
Manager Erik ten Hag, who took over in the off-season, simply put his foot down, got rid of the riff raff, instilled greater belief in the squad and got them to play a decent kind of football again.
Showing Cristiano Ronaldo the exit seems to have at least instilled a measure of discipline and order in the ranks that was sorely lacking and is essential to success in this ultra-competitive league.
The emergence of Casemiro as a battle-hardened midfield general and the signings of a couple of other players, particularly Lisandro Martínez and Brazilian winger Antony, have added a new dimension to the make-up and character of this team.
Even after Sir Alex Ferguson retired a decade ago, Man United always had good players. It was just that they didn’t play good football as a collective unit.
But they are now. And that is why City will visit Old Trafford knowing they could be on the wrong end of a bitter result.
At the time of writing, it is unclear if Dutch striker Wout Weghorst’s proposed transfer to Man United will be completed in time for him to face City.
But regardless of whether he plays today, City will have more than enough motivation to see off the red half of Manchester.
Pep Guardiola, who is cementing his reputation as one of the best football club managers of all time, knows they cannot afford to fall further behind league leaders Arsenal, whom they trail by five points with just over half of the season remaining.
With that, Man United themselves will be wary of a City side that has the outstanding predatory instincts of Erling Haaland.
The 22-year-old Norwegian has lit up the Premier League with an amazing 21 goals in only 15 matches for the Citizens.
And with this, some have backed City to win this one.
In the north London derby tomorrow, Arsenal will face another acid test when they travel to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The Gunners are looking every bit like champions, while Spurs will be out to kick-start their campaign after dropping off the pace of the top four.
Tottenham captain Harry Kane is two Premier League strikes away from reaching the 200-goal mark, and with one more he will match Jimmy Greaves’ record of 266 goals for Spurs.
And with the history between these two sides, it too should prove an explosive game – something similar to what might be in store in the Manchester derby.