David Moyes claims Wayne Rooney has a great chance of starting the game against Chelsea on Monday, which is not to say that he will. He could feature in the proceedings but is more likely to do so from the bench, as he did at Swansea last week. With all that has been going on, up to and including José Mourinho's promise to wait until after the game to make an improved bid for the England striker, Rooney will prove an unignorable subplot when Chelsea arrive at Old Trafford. But for the main event Moyes can simply look to the players who got his competitive Manchester United off to such a convincing start last weekend. There is no pressing need to make alterations to prove a point when United have already started to suggest reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
"Swansea away is a tough fixture for anyone and we put in a great performance," Moyes says. "I keep hearing David Moyes is under pressure but as long as we play like that I don't mind at all. I am actually used to being under pressure. It seems to suit my nature but, when you have the quality at your disposal that we have, it doesn't feel like pressure in the same way. We might not be seen as favourites any longer but we have shown we can still be a match for anyone. At this stage of the season you can't ask for a lot more."
If it is true that United are not seen as favourites any more, and a lot of pre-season forecasts have put Chelsea and Manchester City ahead of the defending champions, it can be only because Moyes himself is seen as the weak link. Both the other teams have changed managers too, yet Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini are perceived to have strengthened Chelsea and City, whereas the Moyes case is still unproven. Mourinho, of course, was considered a serious candidate for the Old Trafford vacancy before Sir Alex Ferguson's pre-emptive strike in favour of a fellow Scot, and the knowledge that hiring the former Real Madrid manager would have made United very short-odds title favourites is another reason why Moyes might feel slightly uncomfortable tomorrow. But he is not about to argue with Mourinho's track record.
"He could have been sitting here now, I know that," Moyes says. "United considered him and quite rightly so. He has been the best of the modern young managers. He is one of those coaches who can make important tactical changes during the course of a game and increasingly that is what you need in modern football."
Mourinho, for his part, denies that he came close to landing the Old Trafford job and says – not that many will believe him – that managing United never crossed his mind. "I never had those dreams," he says. "When I have been to Old Trafford I have always been focused on my club and I don't think about anything else. Only how to win the match. Sir Alex did tell me he was going to retire, though, and asked me to keep it secret. I told him a secret of my own, that I thought I would be coming back to Chelsea. I couldn't say it for definite at the time but I told him I would be coming in this direction. We have kept a lot of secrets between us in relation to football, he would ask my opinion of players and I would do the same to him. He thought he could share his big decision with me."
What Ferguson did not share with Mourinho was his feeling that Moyes might be the right man to take over. "He did not tell me that but I was not all that surprised when it happened," he says. "I don't think there are that many managers in the world to take the really big jobs. David was a man with great experience in England and everyone could see the job he was doing at Everton, so for me it was not a great surprise."
Mourinho is looking forward to going back to Old Trafford, as he always does, because the stadium has played such a big part in his career. "I've won, I've lost, I've drawn there, but playing Manchester United always gives me pleasure," he says. "I like it. I like the stadium, the opponents and the difficulty of the game. The last time with Real Madrid it was in the knockout phase and there was tension. It was a close game. But I have to say my favourite Old Trafford memory is still the first time, with Porto. We were a team coming to the Champions League for the first time and we won with a last-minute goal. It was one to remember."
Everyone remembers Mourinho's touchline celebrations that day in 2004, too, though what they recall most about his most recent visit is that Rooney was absent from the home ranks. That seems to have hit the player quite hard, so was Mourinho surprised to see his name missing? "Not really," his present suitor says. "United have so many attacking options. They have Rooney, Chicharito, Van Persie, Giggs, Nani, Welbeck, Valencia, Young and this season they have Zaha too. They have so many you never know who is going to play. They have a fantastic squad, but so do Manchester City and Tottenham and a number of others. I keep saying there are six teams in with a shout this season."
And three of those teams have new managers but Moyes is unquestionably the one with the biggest boots to fill. Pellegrini could end up just being another temporary manager at City, Mourinho may struggle to match his first couple of seasons at Chelsea but Moyes was headhunted by his personal hero to become the new manager at Manchester United. That is no ordinary job, and no ordinary pressure.
"There's a difference when you are in charge of Manchester United," Moyes says. "You are expected to win, simple as that. So it's a slightly different form of pressure but the level of expectation comes from the level of player you have at the club. You have the quality to deal with that situation. I asked Robin van Persie the other day how many medals he had won. One,' he said. "But he had that glint in his eye that said: 'I need more than that.'" New manager or not, Van Persie is probably still in the right place.