LONDON - It has taken 10 months for Jose Mourinho’s rivalry with Pep Guardiola to come to the boil as they prepare to do battle in Thursday’s pivotal Manchester derby at the Etihad.
The very fact that two of the world’s top coaches are scrambling for a top-four place in the Premier League is an indication that the season has not gone entirely to plan.
The title race and FA Cup final will be fought out between the London clubs, relegating Mourinho’s highly-anticipated duel with Guardiola to little more than a sideshow.
There is still a huge amount at stake, however, with both men desperate to end their first season in Manchester with a Champions League place. Sportsmail looks at how they have done so far.
We assess the season up to this point:
JOSE MOURINHO: If the United manager can add the Europa League to the League Cup and Community Shield - ‘two and a half trophies’ as he would say - there won’t be too many complaints around Old Trafford.
Crucially, it would secure automatic qualification for the Champions League regardless of United’s attempts to finish in the top four over the next month.
Even so, Mourinho began the season talking up a title challenge that has never materialised. That has to improve next time.
PEP GUARDIOLA: Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal means Guardiola will finish a season empty-handed for the first time in a decorated coaching career after starting off with 10 straight wins, and he accepts that City’s owners in Abu Dhabi will be disappointed.
They criticised Manuel Pellegrini last year despite reaching the last four of the Champions League, winning the League Cup and finishing fourth.
The latter of those achievements is now the bare minimum for Guardiola or his first season at the Etihad will be written off as a disaster after such high expectations.
Have their summer signings worked out?
JM: By signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and breaking the world transfer record to buy Paul Pogba, United did their best to steal the limelight from City last summer.
Ibrahimovic’s 28-goal haul before he suffered a season-ending knee injury speaks for itself, but Pogba has struggled to justify his £89m price tag despite playing in a number of positions.
Eric Bailly’s importance to United’s defence increases with every passing week, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan has earned his popularity despite Mourinho’s slight indifference to the Armenian.
PG: Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane fit the Guardiola mould of exciting, explosive forwards, and that is one area of the team that looks very healthy under the Spaniard. Nolito less so, and the £13.8m signing has not started a league game in 2017.
The jury is still out on Ilkay Gundogan, who was recovering from knee surgery when he arrived and suffered a fresh injury in December, while John Stones’ education under Guardiola remains a work in progress.
The decision to bring in Claudio Bravo as a replacement for Joe Hart has been less successful, however. The distribution from the back may be slightly better but Bravo’s shot-stopping has not been good enough.
How have they handled the players they inherited?
JM: Typically, Mourinho has not shied away from confrontation or criticism of his players as Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial have discovered. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have also come under fire recently.
But it’s undoubtedly a happier camp than under the strict regime imposed by Louis van Gaal.
Juan Mata has prospered despite concerns over his history with Mourinho and Ander Herrera has emerged as a key figure.
There have been concerns that Martial and Marcus Rashford were stagnating but the latter, at least, has started to show real signs of progress again.
PG: Raheem Sterling has benefitted from Guardiola’s guidance this season, and the coach should also be commended for his astute handling of Yaya Toure.
But the failure to do more to strengthen an ageing and creaking defence has undermined City from the start, particularly when you consider Guardiola’s use of attacking full backs in the past.
His uneasy relationship with Sergio Aguero is also an area of concern.
What about the style of play?
JM: The former Chelsea manager has been more sympathetic to United’s attacking principles than some expected. Indeed, had his team made the most of their chances in 12 league draws this season — nine of them at home — they would be going to the Etihad on Thursday in a very different position.
PG: There have been times this season when Guardiola’s critics have accused him of trying to be too clever for his own good and sticking to his principles rather than the basics.
City in full flow are still a joy to watch but they need to be a more solid unit.
How have they done in Europe?
JM: Mourinho started off the season admitting he didn’t want to be in the Europa League but says he would rather end it by lifting the trophy in Stockholm next month than finish in the top four.
It’s been an arduous campaign and he has done well to combine it with United’s Premier League commitments.
PG: The two-time Champions League winner may talk about City’s lack of ‘history’ in Europe, but he inherited a team that lost in the semi-finals to eventual winners Real Madrid last season and then suffered a last-16 defeat by Monaco this season. A big disappointment.
How have they coped with the pressure?
JM: Mourinho appeared to be losing his cool when he was sent to the stands twice in the space of six games against West Ham and Burnley in the first half of the season, but he has been a more composed figure since then.
PG: Although Guardiola can come across as rather awkward at times, he mocks the notion that he will somehow transform English football. His honesty and reluctance to criticise officials is also refreshing for a coach who is less familiar with failure than most.