On Monday, David Moyes takes charge of his first competitive match at Old Trafford, whilst Jose Mourinho enjoys his first away game since his return to the Premier League. It is a match between the Premier League's two most successful teams and the first time the two managers have met since May 2007, and yet Moyes versus Mourinho has a familiar ring of late. These are two managers whose names have been mentioned in conversation ever since Sir Alex Ferguson chose to announce his retirement in May.
From the moment that it became clear that the highest profile job in the country had become available, Moyes and Mourinho were the only two names in the frame. Contrasting individuals with disparate personalities, the two coaches signified the decision to be made by those in charge at Old Trafford. For the first time in a quarter of a century, a risk had to be taken. Eventually, it came down to a question of present over future, change over continuation, evolution over revolution.
Jose Mourinho is a fine manager, that is clear. But he is a trophy-hunter, a successful exponent (perhaps the successful exponent) of the modern brand of football management in which it is rare to stay at a club for more than three years. The Portuguese has been immensely successful, winning seven league titles and two European Cups in 11 years, but his previous spell at Stamford Bridge remains the longest of his 14-year coaching career. Mourinho is a winner, but is he a long-term leader or a stayer?
Moyes, meanwhile, represented the opposing ideal. He had never won a major trophy, but at Everton had established a reputation for consistency and continued achievement given the budget at his disposal, and the comparisons with Ferguson were unavoidable given their background and schooling. The belief within the corridors of power at Old Trafford was that Moyes was the man to continue Alex Ferguson's legacy. Rather than rebuild the wall, their new manager would be tasked with maintaining its solidity. The King is dead, long live the King and all that.
Whilst this stance is both understandable (and admirable, to an extent), it does not make things easy for their new man. There is no escaping the fact that if Mourinho were at the Old Trafford helm, they would not have been third favourites for the title. Whether or not he could have attracted Cesc Fabregas or Thiago Alcantara to the club is largely a moot point, but an overwhelming majority of United's support are disillusioned at the club's attempts at recruitment this summer. A 20-year-old right-back (a position in which the club are already well-stocked) does not constitute a successful transfer window, and the fact remains that United's squad has not been improved.
Further still, Moyes has acted with an air of the almost inexplicable in such transfer dealings. Making public your interest in players without gauging any likelihood of success is showing pride before the fall, and the "derisory and insulting" bids for Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini makes deals for both players seem less prospective. Combine this with the Scotsman's rather bizarre insinuations regarding the Premier league fixture calendar and the result is an inauspicious beginning.
Mourinho has little to prove at Chelsea. They will expect the charming words and moody outbursts towards a media that will lap up the soundbites, and will be prepared for the style demonstrated against Hull City last weekend in which his side does enough, but never too much. In their title-winning season of 2004/5, Chelsea won 11 of their games 1-0. The Portuguese coach also has little to prove on Monday. During his career Mourinho has managed 16 matches against Manchester United whilst in charge of Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid, winning seven and losing just twice. Mourinho also enjoyed his battles with Moyes when the two were at Chelsea and Everton respectively. In six matches, Everton took just two points off the Blues.
Moyes, however, has it all to prove. In each of the last seven seasons United have won at least 15 of their 19 home games, and their title defence will depend on Old Trafford remaining a fortress. The new manager has added pressure in that, whilst his appointed was supported by many, a percentage of the crowd will be waiting for cracks to appear. A perennially and famously slow starter to a season during his time as manager at Everton, such a pattern cannot continue. The sternest of tests awaits.
Moyes will have plenty of doubters in Old Trafford on Monday night, their worries in his ability to take the mantle from Ferguson effectively exacerbated by an inability to land transfer targets. The new manager now has a chance to persuade fans that the impressive display against Swansea was a sign of things to come. Setting down such a marker against the principle rival for his new job becomes an opportunity too good to miss.