While they are the last two holders of the Premier League crown, Sunday's Manchester derby at the Etihad between visiting United and hosts City may be more about the two first-year managers finding their footing in the early season than bragging rights for their divided city.
Reigning champions United (2-1-1) appear to be taking on the pragmatic nature of new boss David Moyes, using the previous match as a building block for the next one. That was evident this past week as they came out of the international break with renewed vigour as the striker tandem of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie powered United to a pair of victories ahead of this crunch clash across town.
Both forwards scored in a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace last Saturday and the pair accounted for three goals Tuesday when Moyes had a successful Champions League debut with a 4-2 group play win over German side Bayer Leverkusen. Rooney's two gave him 200 across all competitions with United, joining team greats Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Jack Rowley in reaching the historic milestone.
"It was probably Wayne's best performance that I've seen in a while," midfielder Michael Carrick told the team's official website. "It's great to have him in that form - he can be untouchable when he's like that.
"The performance will breed confidence, and we'll have to do it all again Sunday."
For Rooney, the week provided more distance from the tumultuous period before the close window in which Chelsea had their bids for the forward rebuffed by Old Trafford management.
"I've concentrated on working hard to get my head down, to get myself fit and ready for the season,'' Rooney said. "I'm delighted with the way I've come back and delighted I'm back playing and scoring goals."
The duo were also central figures in the corresponding fixture last season. Rooney struck for a first-half brace - giving him seven goals in his last 13 matches versus City - to stake United to a 2-0 lead, but it was Van Persie's deflected free kick in stoppage time that provided the winning margin in a 3-2 triumph.
City (2-1-1), who saw their 2012 title defence fall woefully short as a distant runner-up to United last season, also have seven points through four league matches as Manuel Pellegrini continues to take a low-key approach in stark contrast to predecessor Roberto Mancini. He also oversaw a group-opening win in Champions League play Tuesday when City stormed to a 3-0 victory at Viktoria Plzen as Edin Dzeko, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero all scored in a 10-minute span early in the second half.
It was easily City's best effort since a 4-0 rout of Newcastle to open the season Aug. 19, and Pellegrini was undoubtedly delighted to see Vincent Kompany again marshal the centre of the back line after missing the previous three matches with a groin injury. The captain will be at the forefront of City's efforts to slow down Rooney and Van Persie, and the manager is hoping for a similar effort to the one given Tuesday.
"It was good to have Vincent Kompany back because he worked very hard the last few days and I had some doubts during the last 10 minutes," Pellegrini said. "I thought about taking him off to rest his legs, but I saw he was playing without a problem, so he will be fine for Sunday."
City have not conceded in their two league home wins, limiting opponents to 12 shots - only three of which Joe Hart has dealt with.