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United and City make Manchester power play

Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Featuring the rekindling of Pep Guardiola’s rivalry with Jose Mourinho, an all-star supporting cast and a host of tantalising sub-plots, Saturday’s Manchester derby could be the most feverishly anticipated ever.

The two clubs have competed on an even footing since around 2010, two years after Manchester City’s acquisition by the Abu Dhabi United Group, but they have never hogged the limelight quite so selfishly.

Both have boosted their ranks with big-money signings, both have won their first three games and both see Saturday’s match as an opportunity to stake an early claim for the Premier League title.

“We can sense the expectation all around the city from our supporters,” says City’s German winger Leroy Sane.

“I’ve played in derby games in Germany, but this should be a great match and one I’m really looking forward to, especially because Pep Guardiola is taking on Jose Mourinho.

“It’s going to be exciting and I hope I can play some part and help us bring back three points.”

The Premier League trophy spent four consecutive years in Manchester between 2011 and 2014, Manchester United winning it in 2011 and 2013 and City in 2012 and 2014.

But the Manchester clubs could not match Chelsea’s pace in 2015 and fell off the title map altogether last season, prompting seismic managerial changes on both sides of town.

Guardiola and Mourinho are two of the three best-paid managers in world football — along with Carlo Ancelotti, Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich — and they were quick to get to work.

Both have renovated their squads in pointed fashion. Both have hit the ground running.

Up to five City players could get their first experience of the derby at the same time as Guardiola.

Among them, close-season signings Sane and Ilkay Gundogan are now fit, while goalkeeper Claudio Bravo could make his first appearance since arriving from Barcelona to supplant Joe Hart.

Captain Vincent Kompany and right-back Bacary Sagna are also at Guardiola’s disposal after groin and hamstring injuries respectively.

– Rashford raring to go –

But the City manager will go into his first meeting with former Real Madrid nemesis Mourino since 2013 without Sergio Aguero.

The Argentina star, scorer of eight derby goals, is suspended after elbowing West Ham United’s Winston Reid, which could yield a starting berth for teenage Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho.

United, the hosts, are set to offer a first taste of derby action to Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and world-record signing Paul Pogba.

It will be Pogba’s first major test since his 89 million pounds ($118.4 million, 105 million euros) return from Juventus, while Ibrahimovic will relish coming up against Guardiola again.

The pair clashed during the Swedish striker’s time at Barcelona, Ibrahimovic describing Guardiola as a “spineless coward” in his autobiography.

Left-back Luke Shaw and midfielder Marouane Fellaini are both due to play despite injury scares on international duty.

However, Henrikh Mkhitaryan — another high-profile recruit — is a doubt with a thigh problem.

The combined value of the two starting XIs is expected to be in the region of 600 million pounds, but a player occupying the thoughts of United’s supporters ahead of the game did not cost a penny.

Marcus Rashford settled the most recent derby, earning United a 1-0 win at the Etihad Stadium in March, and rose from the bench to net a stoppage-time winner at Hull City on their last outing.

Having also notched a hat-trick on his England Under-21s debut against Norway in mid-week, the 18-year-old academy graduate is advancing a strong case for a place in Mourinho’s team.

“Marcus will get opportunities in the first team because he’s that good,” Nicky Butt, head of coaching at the United academy, told The Times.

“Lee Sharpe was the best player in the country as a youngster, but you couldn’t hold Ryan Giggs back much longer.

“If Marcus keeps doing what he’s doing with his pace and directness, it’s impossible to hold him back.”

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