Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez will cross swords for the first time in over a decade at Old Trafford this weekend, having spent much of the intervening period plying their trade in different countries. But it would be inaccurate to say they will renew hostilities - in truth, they haven’t stopped bickering since their last meeting at Anfield in August 2007.
The animosity has been mostly one way, of course - with Mourinho, it usually is - but one suspects Benitez welcomes the attention that comes with being recognised as one of the great adversaries in the Mourinho story, an association that has subsequently seen him identified as the ideal candidate to try and retrace the Portuguese's footsteps at three different clubs.
Much to Mourinho’s amusement, Benitez fell flat on his face at Inter and Real Madrid, while the Portuguese was also quick to belittle a Europa League success from an interim spell with Chelsea. Now, as the autumn passes on both careers and winter approaches fast, the jobs in which they now reside offers a fair reflection of their respective achievements.
But that summary will be of scant consolation to Mourinho. Indeed, this remains a rivalry from which he stands to gain little because no amount of revenge will be enough. It's a profound narrative that shouldn’t be underestimated by punters. Back in the day, when Mourinho was at the peak of his powers, Benitez was a constant thorn in his side.
During the mid-2000s, the two men locked horns with Chelsea and Liverpool 16 times in a three-year period. Mourinho boasted the superior head-to-head record - W7 D4 L5 - but it was a chapter from which he emerged feeling frustrated and distinctly short-changed by a less innovative manager who played him at his own game.
In the first season, Mourinho won each of the first three meetings, including an extra-time success in the 2005 League Cup final at the Millennium Stadium. But it was Benitez who ultimately landed the biggest blow with victory in the Champions League semi-final, courtesy of Luis Garcia’s famous 'ghost goal' in front of the Kop.
In the second season, Mourinho won the two league matches once again, either side of two goalless group-stage Champions League encounters. But Benitez took the spoils in an FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford, preventing arguably the most formidable Chelsea side of all time from landing their first domestic double.
Win cash prizes for free with our competition!
Don't miss out - join our November Tipster Competition today
By the end of the third season, Mourinho must have been sick of the sight of his portly nemesis, when a failed title defence left him with almost everything riding on another Champions League semi-final - and again it was Benitez who prevailed, this time on penalties. It was the peak-end rule at its most brutal. Benitez, it seemed, always had the last laugh.
So there’s your narrative. It’s all water under the bridge, some might say. Ten years have passed. And besides, the odds are now stacked firmly in Mourinho’s favour. They operate at different levels, with different players of contrasting abilities and objectives. But with that comes expectation and a certain sense of clarity for Benitez.
Emotionally, the Spaniard has nothing to lose and tactically this game is a no-brainer. He simply has to do what he does best, make Newcastle difficult to break down - which they already are - and revel in the discomfort it causes his rival. Make no mistake, in terms of irritating Mourinho, the draw would be like a win here - and that makes it value at 5/1.
It's a game plan crystallised by how little Newcastle have created of late. In each of their last five Premier League outings, the Magpies have recorded an Expected Goals value lower than 1.0 - the last three of which have been against Crystal Palace, Burnley and Bournemouth. So their chances of finding the net against a defence with seven clean sheets are remote to say the least.
But it’s at the other end where the intrigue lies and there’s also ample evidence in recent weeks to suggest the hosts might struggle to answer the questions that Benitez asks of them. In their last four matches, the Red Devils have also failed to clear the 1.0 goal marker in terms of accumulated chance creation value.
That information is, of course, tempered by the fact they have played Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea, but the continued absence of Paul Pogba is also notable for the lack of creativity and paucity of clear openings against Benfica (twice) and Huddersfield. According to latest reports, Pogba might make the bench here but, he's probably another week away from being risked.
Man Utd v Newcastle draw at 5/1