It is Ferguson versus Ancelotti. It could refer to the Premier League title race. With a twist, it is also the most intriguing contest in the FA this weekend. Preston North End, rather than Manchester United, take on Chelsea. Darren, not Sir Alex, Ferguson will be shaking hands with Carlo Ancelotti while plotting his downfall.
While Manchester United departed the FA Cup ignominiously early to Leeds earlier this month, they retain an indirect interest. Managerial dynasties are a rarity, but in this as much else, the Ferguson family may provide an exception. Darren Ferguson has a Premier League winner's medal from his days in the midfield at Old Trafford. Having played for his father, he is aware that his managerial career is being defined by his status as Sir Alex's son. It affords him opportunities, it adds pressure and it generates interest.
Eloquent and more media-friendly than his father, Ferguson junior has become accustomed to questions about his illustrious forebear. His time at Peterborough, where he won two promotions in successive seasons, was notable for a reluctance to exploit his connections. Raiding non-league astutely, his sole signings from his father were two short-term loan deals. But after leaving Peterborough in November and being appointed at Preston earlier this month, there are signs of a change in attitude.
When the winter freeze struck, North End were granted use of United's Carrington training ground. Now the Preston manager said: "There are a few Manchester United players out on loan at the moment and I am not going to go knocking on his [Sir Alex's] door for five or six. "If I was to get the one, it would have to be the right one and a really good one." There is a precedent - a young David Beckham was borrowed by Preston 15 years ago - but it can fuel theories about his arrival at Deepdale.
United's emerging players have long exerted an influence in the lower divisions, most recently Tom Cleverley at Watford this season, and Preston appear to have an advantage. Their former manager Alan Irvine, David Moyes' long-time assistant at Everton, was popular with players and supporters alike before his unexpected dismissal. A vacancy may have been created to facilitate the appointment of Ferguson.
His Deepdale debut should prove memorable. After losing 4-2 at Bristol City last week his side sit 17th in the Championship, 35 places behind Chelsea in the league ladder. However, the younger Ferguson is drawing hope from his father's misfortune. "This month Leeds won at Manchester United and Reading went to Liverpool and won," he said. "We have to use them as examples and hope we can cause a shock. United versus Leeds is a game which takes care of itself and on the day United were very poor. Football is football and Chelsea can't play well every game. They need to have an off day if we are to have a chance."
History suggests it is possible. Chelsea's sole defeat in the last three years in the FA Cup came to Championship opponents, Barnsley, during Avram Grant's reign. Preston are not Ancelotti's specialist subject - "I don't know this team very well," he admitted - but he is eager to avert an upset. "There were strange results in the last round and we don't want to have a strange result now," he said.
Ancelotti won the Coppa Italia five times, but only once as a manager. Priorities differ between England and Italy, however, and he said: "The FA Cup is a very important competition here." They won 5-0 against Watford in the third round; indeed, albeit aided by some dreadful defending from the Hornets and Sunderland, Chelsea have scored 12 goals in their last two games and have proved more prolific during Didier Drogba's absence in Africa.
Petr Cech, Ricardo Carvalho, Ashley Cole, Joe Cole and Florent Malouda are likely to be rested today, though the focus will be shared between the pitch and the technical areas as Ancelotti encounters the younger generation of the Ferguson family. "It is a good reason to meet him," the Chelsea manager added. "Like a father, Alex can give him some advice or opinions about our play." Ancelotti has overcome one Ferguson, courtesy of John Terry's goal at Stamford Bridge in November. Now his task is to complete a family double.
@Email:email@example.com Preston v Chelsea, 4.45pm, Aljazeera Sport + 3