London – Across the pitch a grandstand named after Sir Alex Ferguson and a few yards along the touchline Jose Mourinho. This is it David Moyes, welcome to Old Trafford.
If any doubts lingered about the scale of the challenge, they will vanish when Manchester United and Chelsea emerge for Moyes’s first competitive home game.
It will be played in the shadow of his predecessor and in the presence of his most charismatic rival; a manager many felt may have been a better candidate to succeed him.
So, no pressure. “It’s a big day for me, obviously,” said Moyes. “That’s part of the job at Manchester United. There are going to be a lot of big days.”
If there was one recurring criticism of his time at Everton, it was that his team did not often rise to the major occasions, be they cup finals, semis or big Premier League collisions. The big days did not always end well.
His over-reaction to the opening sequence of United fixtures, when he hinted at a conspiracy theory, did him no favours. Can he handle the pressure?
Mourinho will certainly be there to test him. The Chelsea boss has never lost to Moyes and has a healthy reputation against Manchester United.
He exploded into English football in 2004 when his Porto team knocked United out of the Champions League with a late goal at Old Trafford. He danced down the side of the pitch on his way to winning Europe’s biggest title for the first time.
Mourinho won it again with Inter and beat United in the competition with Real Madrid last season when he produced a performance which was widely interpreted at the time as a job application.
With Real leading and United down to 10 men, Mourinho left the arena before the end of the game, making quite a show of shaking Ferguson by the hand. He disappeared down the tunnel and later told the media the best team had lost.
Later still, he revealed how Fergie had confided in him with plans to retire and how he had responded with the information that he was destined to return to Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho was asked ahead of this match whether any part of him regretted the fact he had missed out on the chance to manage United, the self-styled biggest club in the world.
He shook his head and said: “Chelsea.” Pushed on the matter, he repeated: “Chelsea.” Then, as if to prove his loyalty, he launched into a few bars of the club song: “Chelsea, Chelsea. Chelsea, Chelsea.” To much amusement.
In truth, it is a far better fit. At Stamford Bridge, Mourinho can be Mourinho, comfortable in his teasing role.
For all their success in a decade under Roman Abramovich, they remain the London upstarts rather than part of the establishment. For all his efforts to portray himself as a little wiser and milder on his return to England, the Mourinho mischief has been in evidence.
There has been the Rooney affair which has added resonance to this early-season clash and started with Chelsea accusations of leaks from United about being offered Juan Mata and David Luiz.
Mourinho still views the transfer market as a place to score a few points and one of his favourite themes of the summer has been that managers do not tell the truth.
Sure enough, having said it was ‘Rooney or bust’ for him, Chelsea hijacked Tottenham’s deal to sign Willian from Anzhi Makhachkala when it was all but signed
Mourinho has said nothing about Moyes which could be considered nasty. In fact, he has said some very flattering things, praising his record by saying fifth place is like a trophy at Everton.
It did not sound like he was trying to damn him with faint praise at the time but on reflection, he did.
“David is in a big club, everyone knows how to win and that is a big help,” said Mourinho in one of his first interviews after his return, adding: “Of course, it is up to him now.” Then there were Mourinho’s remarks claiming the Manchester champions from the last two years – City in 2012 and United this year – were not “extraordinary” teams.
Moyes was drawn into a response on this one on Sunday night, defending the team he inherited from Ferguson. “If you finish at the top of the league after playing 38 games, that’s perhaps proof enough that it’s worthy,” said Moyes.
“Maybe at times you can say there’s a way you can do it, but 38 games is enough proof. You can’t play any more to show you’re any better. United were worthy champions. What did they win it by? Eleven points.”
Eleven it was, and 14 clear of Chelsea, who were eager to bring forward a fixture against Aston Villa which clashed with the Super Cup to last week.
They won it with a late goal from Branislav Ivanovic, which means they can establish a six-point edge over the champions if they win at Old Trafford, where everyone is aware Mourinho led from the front to win his first title in 2004-05.
“It would be a fake advantage, we have played one match more,” shrugged Mourinho, but Ivanovic let slip how this game is viewed within the Chelsea camp.
“It is not just about this game or the three points but it is very important mentally for us,” said Ivanovic. “What does it say about us if we can go there and win? That would be massive for us and have a huge effect on our confidence and make things feel different. Psychologically, this can be a very difficult game.”
Indeed, for both teams. – Daily Mail