The Iceman Cometh
Zlatan, Pogba, Bravo, Stones signed to deliver in big games
MAN UNITED v MAN CITY
(Tomorrow, 7.25pm, Singtel TV Ch 103 - Eleven Plus)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic probably hadn't heard of Hull City until recently.
He scored the winner against the Yorkshire battlers a fortnight ago, but they weren't the reason he swopped a retirement home in Paris for the EPL pressure cooker.
He came to conquer a city, the only city that has consistently counted in English football for the last 25 years.
Ibrahimovic is expected to deliver on Derby Day, England's Clasico, the game destined to define a season and carve out icons.
Cometh the hour; cometh the monsters from Manchester.
Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, John Stones and Claudio Bravo are in one city for one purpose, to take down the neighbours and take over the town.
Paul Pogba. PHOTO: REUTERS
Win the battle of Manchester. Win the war in England.
Even Chelsea followers must acknowledge that the victors in the Manchester Derby, particularly if they prevail both home and away, are runaway contenders for the silverware.
Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho's selections all have key roles in a fixture they cannot really afford to lose, but the performances of four footballers in particular will have ramifications for their coaches and clubs.
In the long trajectory of an elite footballer's career, Ibrahimovic and Stones are poised to meet in the Etihad penalty box at a crossroads.
Sweden's self-acclaimed god collides with England's great white hope as they swagger in opposite directions.
At 34, Ibrahimovic believes he can smash the space-time continuum through sheer force of will, a muscular, sleek DeLorean of an athlete who can pop up through the ages.
He's clocked countless miles, but continues to time travel.
Yet even Mourinho acknowledges a sporting colossus cannot endure forever. There is an obvious reason for a one-year contract.
Ibrahimovic's career isn't over by any stretch of the imagination, but he can see the end of the rainbow. And Manchester derbies make for a fine swansong.
But Stones intends to make Zlatan play off-key. A commanding presence in his first three games, the 22-year-old already has two managers building their defences around him.
Roberto Martinez and Roy Hodgson appeared blind to Stones' talents, but Guardiola and Sam Allardyce can see clearly now.
Stones revels in the responsibility. When he reigns, City pour forward.
Guardiola expects many things for a club-record fee of £47.5 million. For now, he'll take a clean sheet against Manchester United.
To achieve a shut-out, Stones must shut down Ibrahimovic.
John Stones. PHOTO: REUTERS
Suspicions remain that the elegant centre-back is a Rolls-Royce among stock-car bangers. He's polished, smooth and beautiful to behold, but ill-equipped to slide across mud-caked opponents.
Ibrahimovic presents the first real test, a chance for Stones to remove the "L" plates. The Swede will either make a man out of his marker or devour a boy like a Grimms' fairytale villain.
Juventus have already made a man out of Pogba, but the Frenchman knows that the Manchester Derby could make him a legend.
United's record signing stands at the centre circle, ready to defy a Spanish revolution.
Guardiola's loose 4-1-4-1 has already wreaked havoc in City's first three games. For an hour, West Ham suffered a tsunami of swift counterattacks a fortnight ago.
So Pogba is United's point break, tasked with meeting those blue tidal waves head on, a job he performed admirably at Juventus but only intermittently at Euro 2016.
Everyone associated with United and Pogba continues to insist that it's not about the price tag. But it will be, if he doesn't check the runs of David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne.
Pogba and Marouane Fellaini have so far made an unlikely, unusual partnership in central midfield, resembling a Bentley alongside Big Bird.
But the dominant partner must now dominate the derby.
Mourinho staked almost £90 million on bringing back a localised talent, whereas Guardiola staked his reputation on sending one away.
Joe Hart's enforced exile was as much about Guardiola closing the book on a previous era as it was the Englishman's alleged passing deficiencies.
Bravo isn't the best on show in the derby, but his impact promises to be immeasurable if he starts (and he surely must).
The Spaniard represents a brave new world of ball-playing Citizens from front to back and he's considered a reliable pair of hands. He's also rusty.
A Manchester derby is an unforgiving arena to make one's debut. There's no room for error. A soft goal through Bravo's fingers is one in the eye for Guardiola.
Both the goalkeeper and the coach are going to be judged on their decision-making.
Bravo, like his fellow newcomers, were bought for days like this.
Derbies are about deliverance and the oldest of enemies must rely on new faces for victory.
"I think they share many things in terms of their personality and the leaders they are. In terms of football, they have their own idea how to approach the game, the ambition they have, in an attacking sense and defensively. In those terms they are different. But for sure they are very competitive and they get the best from each player."
- Xabi Alonso on Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola
Rivalries spice up derby of Manchester
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and his Manchester City adversary Pep Guardiola rekindle a rivalry 20 years in the making in this weekend's hotly anticipated Manchester derby.
Friends who became foes, Mourinho and Guardiola represent opposite ends of football's ideological spectrum and their ongoing grudge match has shaped the game's recent history.
It is three years since they last shared a touchline and tomorrow's clash at Old Trafford marks the resumption of a duel that could determine the outcome of the Premier League title race.
Though renowned for their different demeanours, the pragmatic Mourinho, 53, and the idealistic Guardiola, 45, have both shown a capacity for ruthlessness in their early days in Manchester.
Mourinho has sidelined experienced German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, while Guardiola's benching of Joe Hart forced the popular goalkeeper to leave City for Torino.
Both men have also delivered impressive initial results, leaving their clubs neck and neck on nine points - along with Chelsea - after the first three games of the season.
It is two decades since their paths first crossed at Barcelona in the mid-1990s, when Guardiola was captain and Mourinho worked as an assistant to Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal.
The pair became close, but they found themselves in opposition at Nou Camp in 2008 when Barcelona went in search of a successor to Frank Rijkaard as coach.
Despite Mourinho's stellar achievements with Porto and Chelsea, he was overlooked in favour of the inexperienced Guardiola.
The Portuguese exacted sweet revenge two years later when Inter Milan knocked defending champions Barca out of the Champions League.
Mourinho's appointment by Real Madrid that year brought him into regular confrontation with Guardiola.
In the build-up to their Champions League semi-final, Mourinho's acerbic comments prompted an angry, foul-mouthed response from the usually placid Guardiola.
That year's Spanish Super Cup witnessed a new low in the relationship between the clubs as Mourinho poked Guardiola's assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye during a touchline shoving match.
They last met in 2013 when Guardiola's Bayern Munich edged Mourinho's Chelsea on penalties in the Uefa Super Cup.
The presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in United's forward line only adds spice to the blend.
Ibrahimovic, who has scored four goals in four games for United since joining from Paris Saint-Germain, has played for both men and has very different opinions about each of them.
Ibrahimovic played under Mourinho for only one season at Inter, winning the 2008-09 Italian title, but described him as someone "I was basically willing to die for".
He branded Guardiola, who sidelined him at Barcelona the following season, a "spineless coward".
Manchester is about to find out whether the city is big enough for both of them. - AFP.