Best Premier League Defenders – Week 15

It was a quiet week for defenders in Premier League as there were only four clean sheets during the 15th-round of games. Two of those clean sheets came in a single match as West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace played out a goalless draw. Continue reading

The Five Best Fantasy Football Games

Okay, so the market is being flooded with fantasy football games (fantasy soccer games is what I mean). While NFL, NBA and other American fantasy games are dominated by the big boys, the world of fantasy football is populated by a number of smaller players. Below is my highly biased list of my favorite football fantasy games. They are in no particular order but are all really fun to play. Continue reading

Top seeded quartet aim to improve Europa League prospects

Euro 2016

A fortnight ago, several surprising results materialised from the first round of group stage games in this season’s Europa League.

Specifically four of the competition’s highest profile and top seeded teams were unable to win their opening match.

Whilst Atletico Bilbao, Internazionale and Manchester United all lost to sit bottom of their respective groups, Fiorentina were held to a goalless draw by PAOK Saloniki.

As such the four top seeded teams now face crucial second group stage fixtures, as the outcome of those will partially shape their prospects of reaching the knock-out stages.

Each of the assignments that the quartet have been set to enhance those prospects vary in difficulty.  That is the case since whereas Bilbao, Fiorentina and Manchester United are to play home games Inter will face Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic.

Internazionale travel to Prague

Whereas Inter suffered a 2-0 home defeat in their opening group stage game against Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Zdenek Scasny’s team were also comprehensively beaten 3-0 by Southampton.

All but one member, the Zimbabwean defender Costa Nhamoinseu, of Scasny’s squad is Czech, with Tomas Rosicky having returned to the club, where his career began in 1999, after being released by Arsenal.

In contrast to the wealth of home based players available to Scasny, for his team’s Europa League encounter with Sparta Prague, Frank De Boer is able to select from 14 different nationalities, as the Dutchman aims to mastermind a maiden win in European competition as Inter manager.

Whilst I Nerazzuri have recovered well from the disappointment of losing to Hapoal Be’er Sheva by embarking upon a three-game unbeaten run in three Serie A, Sparta lost their most recent league game 2-0 at home to their fierce city rivals Slavia, in a game which bared similar hallmarks to the one that they played against Southampton.

As such although the current form of Inter and Sparta is markedly different, both teams share a need to inject some impetus and momentum into their Europa League campaigns.

Bilbao wounded due to Sassuolo defeat

So too do Atletico Bilbao, as Ernesto Valverde’s side lost their opening game of the competition 3-0 to Sassuolo, for whom Pol Lirola scored a wonderful solo goal at the Stadio Cittadel Tricolore.

Since that humbling defeat however, Bilbao have won three successive La Liga games, to climb to fifth position in the top flight of Spanish football, just two point behind leaders Real Madrid.

Subsequently Bilbao have responded positively to being dismantled by Sassuolo and will now aim to replicate one of their fine recent domestic performances against Rapid Vienna, so as enhance their prospects of building a prosperous Europa League campaign, similar to the one they staged last season, when they reached the quarter finals.

Influential in powering that progression was Aritz Aduriz, as the 35-year-old striker scored 10 goals in 13 Europa League appearances, along with Raul Garcia and Aymeric Laporte, whilst the trio remain key players for Bilbao, who on route to the 2011-2012 Europa League final, which they lost 3-0 to Atletico Madrid, beat Manchester United.

Improvement sought of United by Mourinho

The three-times European champions lost their first Europa League game since that tie against Bilbao 1-0 to Feyenoord, as Jose Mourinho’s side began this season’s competition with a lacklustre display in Rotterdam.

A dynamic and vibrant Feyenoord team, who have opened the Eredivise season with seven successive victories under the guidance of Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, displayed far greater desire and drive than United.

They were similarly outfought and outmanoeuvred in their next English Premier League game, which they lost 3-1 to Watford.

However after galvanising United’s players to produce a vastly improved performance to beat Leicester 4-1, as Paul Pogba scored his first goal for the club, Mourinho will aspire to motivate his players to build upon that result, by delivering a similarly accomplished display at home to Zorya Luhansk.

In five matches against the Ukrainian club for two of his former teams Metalurh Donetsk and Shakhtar Donetsk, United’s 27-year-old Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored four goals.  However Armenia’s international captain and all-time record goal scorer with 19, is yet to establish himself as a regular in Mourinho’s side, with the Portuguese preferring to start Juan Mata in Mkhirtaryan’s favoured playmaking role.

Fiorentina to take Azerbaijani test

Just as United lacked the craft and guile to unlock Feyenoord’s defence in their opening Europa League game, Fiorentina’s best efforts to score against PAOK Salonika were in vain.  Nevertheless Paulo Sousa’s side remained solid defensively to earn a 0-0 draw, in a relatively ill-tempered affair, which was littered with eight yellow cards.

So far this season in six competitive matches, Fiorentina have scored just five goals, although their defence, marshalled by captain Gonzalo Rodriguez and Romanian goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu, has performed excellently well to help their team keep four clean sheets.

Subsequently they will aspire to ensure a continuation of that against Qarabag of Azerbaijan at their Stadio Artemio Franchi stadium, where Fiorentina have neither been beaten nor conceded a goal this season.

Despite that, only twice this season has Sousa’s side scored at home, with them failing to do so as they drew their last game 0-0 with AC Milan, after Josip Illicic missed a penalty for the first time in his Serie A career.

Whilst remaining key players for Fiorentina, the 28-year-old midfielder and winger Fernando Bernardeschi also played important roles for the club’s as they reached the 2014-2015 Europa League semi-finals before being beaten by Sevilla.

One of Fiorentina’s group stage opponents in that edition of the competition was once again PAOK Salonika.  Whilst victorious 1-0 in Greece, then managed by Vicenzo Montella, Fiorentina drew 1-1 with PAOK at home.

Prior to facing the Greeks again on 24 November, Fiorentina will play twice against Slovan Liberec after hosting Qarabag, against whom the Serie A side’s Croatian striker Nikola Kalanic scored twice to inspire his former club Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk to a 2-1 win over the Azerbaijani champions during the group stages of the 2014-2015 Europa League.

Top seeded quartet up to the Europa League Challenge

The current edition of the competition is one within which Fiorentina possess the potential to progress far.

Ultimately so too do Atletico Bilbao, Internazionale and Manchester United.

Nevertheless in order to enhance their respective prospects of achieving that, it will be necessary for the quartet to overcome relatively strong, albeit markedly different opposition, in their second group stage games.

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Five surprising goalscorers to start the new season across Europe

Uc Sampdoria vs Atalanta Bergamasca Calci

Alexandre Lacazette, Edinson Cavani, Robert Lewandowski, Diego Costa, Antoine Griezmann, and Carlos Bacca scoring a combined 29 goals so far in the 2016-2017 season shouldn’t come as a surprise.

But in the first month of the season, five players have been on fire in a surprising manner, hitting the net more than expected. Let’s see who they are!

Franck Kessie (Atalanta) – 4 goals

Serie A fans were pretty excited about the arrival of Franck Kessie in the Italian top flight. After just four games, the 19-year-old Ivory Coast midfielder has already proven his (super) talent. Kessie scored two goals in his Serie A debut for Atalanta and has already hit the net four times this season (and once in the Coppa Italia). Perfect start, definitely for a new kid on the block who mainly plays as a defensive midfielder.

Joel Pohjanpalo (Bayer Leverkusen) – 4 goals

It’s been a crazy season for 22-year-old Joel Pohjanpalo. The Finland international rejoined Leverkusen this summer after a loan spell at Dusseldorf. He’s received just 30 minutes in two Bundesliga appearances, but scored four goals in games against Borussia Monchengladbach and Hamburg. Pohjanpalo hit a hattrick for Leverkusen against Hamburg, including two goals in extra time to secure a 3-1 win.

Etienne Capoue (Watford) – 4 goals

In 2013 Etienne Capoue joined Tottenham from Toulouse for €11 million. However, the central midfielder was unable to live up to the high expectations at White Heart Lane. Last season, the 28-year-old scored zero goals in 33 appearances for Watford but during the new campaign Capoue has already hit the net four times. Among those are goals against Chelsea and Manchester United.

Fabinho (Monaco) – 3 goals

Monaco have launched a serious challenge at Paris Saint-Germain this Ligue 1 season. They have assembled a talented team, among them Fabinho, for who Monaco paid just €6 million to Rio Ave in 2015. The defensive midfielder has scored three goals in four league games this season, including two against Lille and PSG. The Brazilian 22-year-old also hit the net twice in the Champions League qualifiers against Villarreal.

Leroy Fer (Swansea) – 3 goals

Swansea needed just 11 appearances from Leroy Fer last season in order to decide to make his loan spell for QPR permanent last summer. The Dutch midfielder has a history for scoring a couple of goals every season, but nobody expected the 26-year-old to score three goals in his first five appearances this season. Including one on the road against Leicester and one at home in an encounter with Chelsea.

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Benfica ready to launch another impressive Champions League campaign

Euro 2016

As Portugal’s most highly decorated club, Benfica are well accustomed to honorably representing their country in European competition.

Benfica’s strong European pedigree

The 1961 & 1962 European champions, who have won the Portuguese Primeira Liga for three successive years, will aspire to do just that once again in this season’s Champions League, after performing impressively to reach the quarter finals of last year’s competition.

Under the managerial guidance of Rui Vitoria, who succeeded Jorge Jesus following the 62-year-old’s departure to join Sporting Lisbon in June 2015, Benfica qualified for the knock-out stages by finishing second in their group, which was won by eventual runners-up Atletico Madrid and also contained Galastasary along with Astana.

Thereafter in the round of 16, Benfica beat Zenit St. Petersburg home and away to record a 3-1 aggregate victory, before narrowly losing their two legged quarter final tie against Bayern Munich 3-2.

That was the first time since the 2011-2012 season that Àguias had made the last eight of the Champions League, whilst Vitoria’s team are preparing to launch a similarly impressive campaign this year.

Change in playing personnel

Despite selling Nicolas Gaitan and Renato Sanches to Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively, whilst also allowing the Brazilian midfielder Talisca to join Besiktas on loan, Benfica’s squad remains strong both in terms of depth and quality, since during the past summer their management team and network of scouts identified and attracted new talented players to the club.

Influx of quality new players to Benfica’s squad

Specifically as well as signing Portugal’s Euro 2016 winner Rafa Silva for €16.4m from Braga, Benfica also recruited several other excellent young midfielders including the highly rated duo of Andre Horta and Andrija Zivkovic, along with Oscar Benitez and Franco Cervi of Argentina and the Brazilian Guillermo Celis.

Furthermore Benfica’s chief decision makers completed another piece of astute business in this summer’s transfer market by signing the Greek internationalist striker Konstantinos Mitroglu on a permanent contract for €7m from Fulham, after the 28-year-old scored 25 goals in 45 appearances during a successful loan spell with the Portuguese champions last season.

Whilst Mitroglu performed consistently well throughout that, so too did his strike partner Jonas, as the former Valencia forward scored 36 goals in 48 appearances and was named the Primeira Player of the Season for a second successive year.

In addition to Jonas and Mitroglu, another excellent striking option available to manager Vitoria is the Mexican Raul Jimenez.  The 25-year-old former Atletico Madrid player is currently in fine form, scoring in both his Primeira Liga appearances to help Benfica enjoy an unbeaten start to the domestic season, whereby of their four league game to date, they have won three and drawn one.

Benfica’s fine start to the season

Whilst winning a trio of away fixtures against Tondela (2-0), Nacional (3-1) and Arouca (2-1), Benfica’s drew their solitary home match so far this season at the Estadio da Luz – which is the largest football ground in Portugal with a capacity of 65,600 people - 1-1 against Vitória de Setúbal.  It was from Setúbal that Benfica signed Andre Horta for an undisclosed fee.  Subsequently the diminutive and technically gifted 19-year-old has seamlessly settled into the centre of Benfica’s midfield alongside the combative Serbian Ljubomir Fejsa.

They are rapidly developing a superb partnership after playing together for the first time in a competitive match to help Benfica beat Braga 3-0 in the Supertaca Candido de Oliveira – Portuguese Super Cup.

Another player who produced a wonderfully impressive display during that game was Horta’s fellow debutant Franco Cervi.  As well as scoring the 22-year-old Argentinian was named man-of-the-match, whilst also influential in Benfica’s triumph was Pizzi, who scored and provided an assist for Benfica’s other goal, a composed finish by Jonas.

Vitoria constructing a talented team

As such whilst many of Benfica’s players have started this season extremely positively, they are performing well as a collective unit, which has a particularly strong spine.

The base of that is constructed by the Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar and the central defensive duo of Jardel and Victor Lindelof, whilst ahead of them is the Fejsa – Horta partnership behind a front pair of Jonas and Mitroglu, although Jimenez possesses the potential to compete intensely with them for a starting place in Vitoria’s side.

Upon that the youthful full-back duo of Alex Grimaldo and Nelsinho have made a very positive impact so far this season, whilst in the wide midfield roles so to have Pizzi and Eduardo Salvio, who Vitoria currently prefers to play on the right wing ahead of Cervi.

Therefore the 46-year-old Vitoria is making great progress towards developing an extremely talented and well-balanced Benfica side, which is well-equipped to launch another impressive Champions League campaign, following their run to the quarter – finals of the competition last season.

Àguias to embrace Champions League challenge

The prospect of trying to emulate and eclipse that performance constitutes a difficult challenge to Benfica.

That begins with their first group stage game which is a home fixture against Besiktas, whilst Benfica will also face Dynamo Kiev and Napoli, with each of those teams representing difficult opponents.

Nevertheless Àguias undoubtedly possess the potential to overcome each of those and once again qualify for the knock-out stages.

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Pogba and Higuain enjoying different starts

Manchester United vs Southampton United

During the past summer transfer market, Paul Pogba and Gonzalo Higuain were football’s biggest transfers. However, both players have enjoyed different starts for their respective new clubs, Manchester United and Juventus.

Pogba’s struggles

Pogba made the switch from Serie A to the Premier League, with the Red Devils putting a record fee of €105 million on the table for the French midfielder. That amount surpassed the €100 million paid by Real Madrid to Tottenham for Gareth Bale in 2012. However, it was considered a solid deal, as Pogba has massive marketing appeal and United expected a serious boost in shirt sales, for example.

On the pitch, however, the 23-year-old hasn’t been that impressive compared to his marketing numbers. Jose Mourinho has opted for a 4-2-3-1 line-up with his Old Trafford squad, playing Pogba in front of the defence alongside Marouane Fellaini and using Wayne Rooney as the team’s attacking midfielder.

Pogba became big in Juve’s 3-5-2 system as a box-to-box midfielder, running up and down the pitch and able to use his athleticism in his advantage. The France international always played alongside a deep playmaker, but in Mourinho’s system Pogba is forced to play that role. One that doesn’t suit him, as he’s robbed from his best attributes by playing too deep.

A role behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which is now played by Rooney, could be a better alternative. But the best one is deploying a solid passer alongside Pogba, not a bruiser like Fellaini. Morgan Schneiderlin would fit the bill in this regard, or even Ander Herrera. This would free up Pogba’s box-to-box skills, as he doesn’t have to be the link between the defence and the midfield. The big reason why he’s been struggling so far.

Higuain’s perfect fit

Meanwhile, Higuain moved from Napoli to Juventus for a Serie A record €90 million. The 28-year-old turned up in Turin overweight and was mocked for being “too fat”. The Argentine striker was consequently forced to come off the bench for the Bianconeri’s first two games, against Fiorentina and Lazio, but started in place of Mario Mandzukic against Sassuolo.

After just 117 minutes in three league games, Higuain has already provided three goals for the Old Lady. He scored the winner against Fiorentina and hit the net twice against Sassuolo, one coming from a scissors kick. The Argentine became a star in 4-3-3 systems at Real Madrid and Napoli, but has already shown to be his old self in Juve’s 3-5-2. His relationship with Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic has already proven to be deadly.

Conclusion: one big transfer is not the other. Pogba has much to prove at United in a system that doesn’t suit his abilities, while Higuain is already fitting in at Juventus. Only time will determine how these summer moves will be judged in the future.

If you would like to manage your own fantasy teams by selecting your favorite players including Paul Pogba and Gonzalo Higuain, try playing Fantasy EPL and Serie A Fantasy.

Michu’s re-emergence into professional game is underway

Euro 2016

In order to fully recover from a career-threatening injury setback, a player must invariably display a great deal of courage, determination and resolve.

Those qualities are attributable to the Spanish striker Michu as the 30-year-old has overcome a persistent ankle injury, by patiently completing a rehabilitation programme, to return to playing professional football, following a 686 day absence from the game.

An injury ravaged two years following a successful spell at Swansea

That began on 23 October 2014 at the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern, when representing Napoli, Michu was substituted an hour into the Serie A side’s 2-0 Europa League group stage defeat to Young Boys, as a result of aggravating the ankle injury which he sustained whilst playing for Swansea City.

After joining the English Premier League side for £2m in July 2012, Michu scored 22 goals in 43 appearances and helped the Welsh club win the 2012-2013 League Cup.

Such was the excellence of his form for Swansea during his maiden season with the club Vicente Del Bosque called him up to Spain’s national team, for whom Michu made his debut in a 2014 World Cup Qualifier against Belarus during October 2013.

However after losing both fitness and form due to being plagued by an ankle injury, Michu’s career then underwent a marked decline.  The initial phase of that materialised during Michu’s second season with Swansea, as despite scoring four goals in seven Europa League appearances, he played just 17 and scored only twice for the club domestically, before being allowed to join Napoli on loan.

That transpired as being a similarly frustrating spell for Michu, as injury restricted him to making just five appearances for Partenopei, with the last of those being against Young Boys.  Despite returning to Swansea and remaining with the club for a year, injury prevented Michu from playing another game as he was then released in November 2015.

On the road to recovery

At that time although the recipient of several offers to join either English Premier League or La Liga clubs, Michu – whose full name is Miguel Perez Cuesta – humbly declined them due to his acute awareness of being unfit.  Conversely he opted to sign for the Spanish amateur fourth tier side Union Popular Langreo, whom are coached by his brother Hernan Perez.

Whilst with the Asturian based club Michu manfully persevered to successfully rebuild his fitness.  That enabled him to enjoy a prolonged run of games, as he scored nine goals in 16 appearances, with that form attracting the attention of the chief decision makers at Real Oviedo, for whom Michu signed last month.

Completion of Michu’s recovery marked Oviedo return

As well as spending the first four years of his professional career with Oviedo from 2003 until the summer of 2007, during which time he scored 13 goals in 103 appearances, Michu also supports the Spanish Segunda Division club, who are coached by the former Real Madrid central defensive stalwart Fernando Hierro.

Furthermore there is another aspect to Michu’s affinity with Oviedo.  In November 2012 as a result of encountering severe financial hardship, whereby they were on the verge of going into insolvency, Oviedo’s hierarchy made the decision to sell shares in the club in order to try to raise €2m, which they required to stay in business.

Along with fellow former Oviedo youth team players Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla, Michu bought some of the club’s shares which helped them stabilise financially.

That represented Michu making a very positive contribution to Oviedo’s cause, which he is now aspiring to build upon by once again starring for the club as a player, after ending his 686 day absence from the professional game, by playing the entirety of their 4-3 Copa Del Rey extra time defeat to UCAM Murcia.

Michu’s return to the professional game begins positively

In doing so, not only did Michu consolidate his return to full fitness but he also produced a very impressive and impassioned performance, during which he scored twice.

With Oviedo trailing 3-1 after 83 minutes, Michu displayed his predatory instinct to score from close range, before adding a second goal with a header, which resulted in the game going to extra time.

Although unable to help Oviedo emerge from that triumphant, despite valiantly endeavouring to, Michu still enjoyed a very positive second debut for Oviedo, which will undoubtedly serve him well as he aspires to embark upon a successful re-emergence into the professional game.

Potential exists for Michu to once again play at the highest level

Given the immense physical and psychological strength which Michu has shown to bravely recover from the injury which ravaged his career for almost two years, there is every possibility that he could yet earn another opportunity to play in one of European football’s top divisions.

If you would like to use your football expertise to manage your own fantasy team, try playing La Liga Fantasy Football.

Napoli seek to build upon enthralling victory over Milan

Euro 2016One team has reigned supreme in Serie A over the course of the last five seasons.

Juve’s domination of Serie A

Specifically Juventus have won five successive Scudetto’s, whilst they have made a positive start to winning a sixth.

After opening their 2016-2017 Serie A campaign with a 2-1 home victory over Fiorentina, La Vecchia SignoraThe Old Lady – then beat Lazio 1-0 at the Stadio Olimpico.

Old Lady make strong start to title defense 

The determination and resoluteness which Massimiliano Allegri’s side displayed to earn both of those wins, despite not producing their best form, provided a clear indication that they will be formidable opponents for any other Serie A side and as such, ready to launch a sustainably strong defence of their league title.

With that already being well underway and having the potential to gather momentum when Juventus host Sassuolo in their next league game, teams with any aspirations of breaking the Turin giants Serie A dominance must also begin the season strongly so as to create a solid base upon which to build a sustained title challenge.

Early season evidence of Napoli’s attacking prowess

One team with the potential to do that are last season’s runners-up Napoli, particularly given the wealth of technically gifted attacking players within Partenopei’s squad.

Despite selling Gonzalo Higuain to Juve for €90m in the summer, Napoli remain a potent attacking force, as can be proven by reflecting upon the two Serie A games they have played this season.  In the first of those, Dries Mertens scored a second-half double to help Napoli recover from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Pescara, whilst Maurizio Sarri’s side then enthrallingly defeated AC Milan 4-2 at the Stadio San Paolo.

After Arkadiusz Milik’s brace, the 22-year-old Polish international striker’s first two Serie A goals, gave Napoli a 2-0 half time lead, I Rossoneri drew level shortly after the interval courtesy of goals from M’Baye Niang and Suso.  However Napoli responded positively to surrendering their lead, with Jose Callejon scoring twice to secure his team’s maiden Serie A win of the season.

Whilst the quality of Napoli’s attacking play and creative inventiveness – chief architects of which are the club’s inspirational captain Marik Hamsik along with Callejon and Mertens – is indisputable, at the moment they are far less assured defensively.

Partenopei defensively fragile 

However that is partly attributable to their commitment, which is authorised by manager Sarri and demanded by their vociferously loyal supporters, to endeavour to play an attractive and expansive brand of attacking football that occasionally leaves them vulnerable defensively.

That is particularly the case since the team’s two first choice full-backs Elseid Hysaj and Faouzi Ghoulam are given licence to maraud forward.

Ultimately Napoli’s defensive frailties were evident during their enthralling victory over Milan.

Sarri tasked with engineering a sustained Napoli title challenge 


Nevertheless they will now seek to build upon that by winning their next league game at home to Palermo, as Sarri’s side aspire to establish themselves as genuine title contenders and stay in touch with the ominously strong Juventus at the top of Serie A.

The two teams meet for the first time this season on 29 October at the Juventus Stadium.

Between now and then, Sarri’s aim must be to allow Napoli to continue playing with a similar level of attacking verve and purposefulness as they did against Milan, whilst solidifying them defensively, so that they are suitably equipped to embark upon a fine run of results.

That is vitally important in order to enhance Napoli’s prospects of winning a first Serie A title since 1990 and ending Juventus’ five season dominance of the division.

If you would like to be actively involved in managing your team, try playing Serie A Fantasy Football.

Guardiola and Mourinho aim to continue impressive starts

Euro 2016

There are many great derby games in the world of football, one of which involves the two Manchester clubs, United and City, with the two sides set to face one another at Old Trafford this Sunday.

Great managerial rivalry set to be renewed

So far this season, the two teams have won each of their three Premier League matches, as Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho’s managerial reigns of City and United respectively have commenced extremely well, in terms of performances and results.

As such both sides are set to enter the first Manchester derby of the season full of confidence and optimistic of continuing the fine starts they have made under the guidance of their new managers, with Guardiola and Mourinho set to renew their great rivalry which emanates from the time they spent managing Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

Furthermore the two managers will pit their tactical wits against one another for the first time since the 2013 UEFA Super Cup final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea.

Guardiola emerged triumphant from that encounter as his Munich side, which he left to join Manchester City, beat Mourinho’s Chelsea 5-4 on penalties.  Those were required to be taken since the teams played out a pulsating 2-2 draw after extra time.

An equally enthralling contest has the potential to materialise between United and City this weekend, especially given the intense rivalry between Guardiola and Mourinho, along with the positive manner in which the two team’s sets of players have responded to the arrivals of their new managers.

Guardiola guides City to perfect start

In terms of City’s start to the season, as well as emphatically beating Steaua Bucharest 6-0 on aggregate to reach the group stages of the Champions League, they have beaten Sunderland, Stoke City and West Ham in the Premier League.

Although their 2-1 victory over Sunderland was unconvincing and secured courtesy of a late own goal by former Manchester United defender Paddy McNair, City produced a far more impressive performance to comprehensively defeat Stoke 4-1 at the Brittania Stadium, with Sergio Aguero particularly influential for Guardiola’s side.

However the 28-year-old striker, who has already scored six goals this season, will miss the Manchester derby as a result of incurring a three-game suspension after being found guilty of violent conduct for elbowing West Ham’s Winston Reid during City’s 3-1 win against the New Zealander defender’s team.

As such in order to mastermind a continuation of City’s excellent opening to the season against United, Guardiola requires to compensate for the absence of Aguero, who has scored seven goals in Manchester derbies.

United in fine form under Mourinho and unbeaten in last three derbies

The last of those arrived, when United beat City 4-2 at Old Trafford in April 2015.  Since then the two fierce rivals have met twice, with both of those league games being closely contested affairs during last season.  Whilst the first ended in a goalless draw at Old Trafford, United won the return fixture 1-0, with Marcus Rashford scoring the decisive goal.

The 18-year-old repeated that feat as United beat Hull 1-0 in their last Premier League game to maintain a 100% winning start to the season under the guidance of Mourinho.

As well as his match-winning goal against Hull, Rashford scored a hat-trick for England’s under-21 side to help them emphatically defeat Norway 6-1, to vividly demonstrate that he is capable of building upon his fine debut season with United, whereby he scored eight goals in 18 first team appearances, to earn himself a place in England’s Euro 2016 squad.

Nevertheless so far this season Rashford has played just 18 minutes of football for United, with Mourinho preferring to play an attacking midfield trio of Anthony Martial, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney, behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The quartet have formed a dynamic collective unit, with that being particularly potent during United’s first two games of the Premier League season, as they beat the south coast duo of Bournemouth and Southampton 3-1 and 2-0 respectively.

Whilst Mata, Rooney and Ibrahimovic scored a goal apiece against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium, the talismanic Swedish striker, who retired from international football following Euro 2016 with an excellent record of 62 goals in 116 games for his country, scored both goals in United’s home win over Southampton.  As such Ibrahimovic has already established himself as an influential figure for Mourinho’s side, within which the Portuguese manager has instilled his winning mentality.

Guardiola and Mourinho making great early impressions

It is also possible to pay Guardiola such a complement relative to the positive influence he has had at City, since in the process of winning each of their five competitive games this season, they have scored 15 and conceded just 3 goals, to provide a clear indication that the 45-year-old Catalan is successfully developing a side blessed with a wealth of collective qualities similar to the way in which Mourinho is doing at United.

As such Guardiola and Mourinho have enjoyed ideal beginnings to their managerial eras of City and United respectively.

Furthermore the two great rivals will aspire to orchestrate a continuation of that by winning the first Manchester derby in which they’ve been involved.

Stage set for an intriguing Manchester derby

Ultimately both teams will valiantly try to defend their 100% winning records this season, with those testifying the excellent impressions made by both Guardiola and Mourinho at their new clubs.

Subsequently this Manchester derby represents an intriguing duel between both, two extremely talented sets of players and two of football’s most highly decorated managers, who are each capable of inspiring wonderful performances from their respective  teams.

Therefore the stage is set for a captivating contest that may offer some insight as to which of the two Manchester clubs are best equipped to win the English Premier League title this season.

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