New faces resume old rivalry

Posted by John Brewin

"Aye, Wayne Rooney -- it's normally about nothing else here," Moyes smirked at his news conference on Tuesday night. He was confirming the subject of his comments to UEFA's interpreter before they could be translated into German. A 4-2 victory against Bayer Leverkusen had him in an amiable mood. Two wins in three days had United back on an even keel.

Manuel Pellegrini, over in Plzen, cut a similarly relieved figure. Monday had been a 60th birthday spent preparing for his maiden Champions League outing with Manchester City. He was brought to the Etihad Stadium to improve their record in that very competition. It meant he could relax, and even enjoy the bouquet of flowers Viktoria Plzen had presented to him for his personal landmark. Briefly, City's indifferent league form could be put to one side.

Sunday, though, has cast a long shadow. "It's a good start in the Champions League," Moyes said when pressed about the Manchester derby, deflecting the question. "That's all I was interested in tonight." He also knew he would not have long to dwell.

The last time a new Manchester United manager took control of his first Manchester derby was in March 1987, when Alex Ferguson got the better of Jimmy Frizzell. Pellegrini is City's 14th 'permanent' manager since 1987. City fans are relieved at the absence -- at long last -- of the man they often personified as an evil emperor. Ferguson had presided over the period that was their club's darkest -- the late '90s fall to the third division -- and spent his final season wresting back the title from Eastlands.

Despite spending the past two United matches in Old Trafford's director's box, Alex Ferguson will not be at the Etihad. Instead, he will most probably be watching the game on TV in his Manhattan apartment, having flown out to the United States on Saturday morning. "I know Sir Alex Ferguson is not here for the first time, but that is their problem, not my problem," Pellegrini said on Friday.

Ferguson is giving Moyes space, though he signed off with a Thursday MUTV interview where motives clearly lay in improving relations with Rooney, and attempting to deflate the Mark Halsey revelations by describing his former text buddy as "a bit Walter Mitty."

Neither Moyes nor Pellegrini are greenhorns where this type of fixture is concerned. Moyes has 11 years' experience of the Merseyside derby to call on, even if it was all too rarely a happy occasion for him; Pellegrini has survived derbies in Santiago, Quito, Buenos Aires, Madrid and clasicos between Real and Barcelona.

Sunday doesn't represent a first meeting between the managers either. Pellegrini got the better of Moyes in a match that proved key to both men's careers: Villarreal's controversial win over Everton in their playoff of August 2005 prevented Moyes having a crack at the Champions League group stage until Tuesday. Moyes has never forgotten the decision by referee Pierluigi Collina that denied Duncan Ferguson an equaliser in El Madrigal.

"We thought we had scored a perfectly legitimate goal," he said Friday, none too pleased to be reminded of a night of bitter disappointment. Pellegrini's Yellow Submarines subsequently sailed under the radar, ultimately going within a missed Juan Roman Riquelme penalty against Arsenal of reaching that season's final in Paris. "They had a really good team, so for us to run Villarreal very close at Everton that year gives you an idea of what a good side we had as well," Moyes added.

"It was a very special match for Villarreal and for me," Pellegrini smiled in recollection of the meeting with Everton, and he is no stranger to Manchester United either. Villarreal and United used to have a strangely soporific effect on each other. In the 2004-05 and 2008-09 Champions League campaigns, the two teams played out four 0-0 draws that have hardly lived in the memory beyond their being statistical anomalies.

"I remember they were very difficult games," Pellegrini said. "It was not easy for Villarreal to play against Manchester United when they had Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Rooney. They had a very strong attack, a very good team. The four draws we had against them were very important games, not only because we drew, but because those groups finished with Villarreal at the top. That was very important for us."

United exited the 2004-05 campaign at the group stage but went on to the final in 2008-09. "The past and the history will not play the next game," Pellegrini noted.

Moyes has usually made life difficult for Manchester City, and especially when under the leadership of Roberto Mancini. Back in March, Everton's season was seemingly over after exiting the FA Cup the previous week, but they raised themselves for a performance -- and a 2-0 win -- that mortally wounded City's defence of their title. Moyes has 14 wins from 26 matches -- and only six defeats -- against City, going back to a 1-0 win for Preston North End at Maine Road in October 1998.

Like Pellegrini, he publicly chooses to place as little importance as possible on previous successes against Sunday's opposition. "It's another game in another derby where we have to try as hard as we can," Moyes said. "We in the past made it tough for Manchester City, but you in the media remind me how tough I've found it at other places, so I won't be shouting about it."

Instead, he returned to his usual topic of conversation, a player who took time this week to praise Moyes' part in his return to form: Rooney.

"If he could score another two goals at the weekend that would be the next step forward, wouldn't it?" Moyes said of a player who has a fine record against City himself. Rooney scored twice at Eastlands last December, having scored his famous overhead goal in February 2011, a few short months after he seemed destined to play in Mancunian blue during his penultimate dispute with Ferguson.

Even with Ferguson in his dotage, and on the other side of the Atlantic, plenty of interwoven subplots remain and will be rejoined in the battle to be Manchester's finest and Sunday's best.

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