Rejected for the manager's job at Old Trafford, Chelsea's Jose Mourinho will look to inflict retribution for Manchester United spurning his advances, writes Richard Jolly.
Premier League: David Moyes has the job Jose Mourinho covets most
The last time Old Trafford staged a competitive game, it was more an occasion than a football match.
For the record, Manchester United beat Swansea City 2-0 in May. That was overshadowed by the presentation of the English Premier League trophy, the farewell speech on the pitch from Sir Alex Ferguson and the celebration of 26 years of almost unrivalled success.
Afterwards, Ferguson's army of grandchildren wandered around the hallowed turf with him before a photographer, commissioned privately by the retiring manager, ventured into the inner sanctum, captured a series of shots in the dressing room, with the next generation lifting the silverware. Presumably, they are to be found in the Ferguson family albums.
And with that, an era at Old Trafford ended. Another begins in intriguing fashion with a contest that has already been played out by the United power brokers.
Once Pep Guardiola took the Bayern Munich job, Ferguson's successor was destined to be either Jose Mourinho or David Moyes. It is thought that David Gill, the former chief executive, wanted the Portuguese. Ferguson had the decisive say and nominated his fellow Scot.
"He could have been sat here now, I know that," Moyes said. "United considered him and quite rightly so. He has been the best of the modern young managers."
Now, in one of those magnificent coincidences that occur suspiciously often on the fixture calendar, Moyes's competitive home debut is against Mourinho.
Rivals to succeed Ferguson - even if Moyes, at least, did not know his compatriot was quitting - and in a summer-long fight for Wayne Rooney's services, they are enemies in the bid to be champions.
It makes it a clash of opposites. Mourinho has won seven league titles in four countries, Moyes none. He is the serial winner and the short-term fix, Moyes the continuity candidate offering Caledonian grit.
Less explosive, less expensive, he has been criticised for his record against the top teams, but beat one of the world's most successful managers to the most prestigious of jobs.
Mourinho now claims he was never interested in the Old Trafford job.
"Sir Alex did tell me he was going to retire, though, and asked me to keep it secret," he said. "I told him a secret of my own, that I thought I would be coming back to Chelsea."
However, having fluttered his eyelashes at United and experienced rare rejection, now the great flirt is eyeing up Rooney. This time, the object of his affections is flattered.
It is part of a pincer movement against the club that rejected him: Mourinho is coming for their title and one of their talents. The master manipulator is cutting a relaxed figure, enjoying his return to Stamford Bridge.
Lacking his natural charm and enduring a frustrating summer in the transfer market, Moyes has seemed on the defensive from the off, stripped of a honeymoon period and denied a flagship signing.
The new United has looked very much like the old, winning 4-1 at Swansea last Saturday, with Nemanja Vidic dominating at one end and Robin van Persie delighting at the other. They performed with an efficiency that was once the hallmark of Mourinho's sides.
Now, however, the Portuguese has inherited the inventive. Chelsea are overloaded with flair players, short of some of the solid citizens who enabled his first Blues side to win back-to-back titles.
There is no new Claude Makelele, no second Ricardo Carvalho. There is not yet the same air of invincibility about the team; rather the aura belongs to the manager.
It is the opposite scenario at United the players have the sizeable medal collections and their winning mentality is expected to ease Moyes's transition from Evertonian overachiever to United victor.
It means his role could be downplayed: Mourinho may earn the credit if Chelsea triumph, while the plaudits could go to Van Persie and company if United prevail.
"Playing Manchester United always gives me pleasure," said the Portuguese, who has a fine record against United and has never lost to Moyes.
Mourinho's first league game in charge of Chelsea, nine years and 11 days ago, was a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge.
Premature though any judgements would be, a repeat result tonight would bring suggestions that United appointed the wrong man.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE