Sunderland v Manchester United: Preview
Steve Bruce will lock horns with the man he still calls "boss" desperate to finally break his duck.
The Sunderland manager will go head to head with Sir Alex Ferguson still looking for his first win over Manchester United, the club he served with such distinction as a player.
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Bruce was a member of the class of 1993 which finally ended a 26-year wait for a league title, establishing a dynasty which has added another 10 Premier League successes since.
He left Old Trafford for Birmingham in the summer of 1996 with three league winners' medals, two FA Cups, two League Cups and a European Cup Winners' Cup among his list of honours, and two years later, launched his managerial career at Sheffield United.
However, despite some near-misses - Sunderland led 2-1 at Old Trafford last season before Anton Ferdinand's unfortunate own goal handed United a face-saving point - he is yet to get the better of a man for whom he, not surprisingly, has the highest regard.
Bruce said: "Oh aye, he's `the boss', absolutely.
"There will never be another one. Since I have left, it doesn't matter where you go, everybody asks the same thing: 'What was he like? What was it like?'.
"He is a quite unbelievable manager and it is a quite unbelievable club, and I was privileged to be there, that's the only thing I can say.
"I was privileged to be there for the best part of 10 years.
"I have been trying for years to get a result over them and haven't quite managed it.
"I have managed a few draws, but that's about it. But they are without question for me still the team that has everybody talking about them.
"When Manchester United come to town, there is something about them and you would love to get a result against them - but it's not easy.
"There are a few managers, not just myself, who have tried hard and have been unable to get a result against them."
Defender Anton Ferdinand could return to the squad for the clash.
Ferdinand is back in training after a hamstring injury and could be ready to face his older brother Rio, if selected, at the Stadium of Light.
John Mensah (also hamstring) was due to train on Friday, but the game is likely to come too soon for him, while Kieran Richardson will miss out with a similar problem.
Bruce faces perhaps his most difficult decision with his goalkeepers as the fit-again Craig Gordon attempts to displace Belgian Simon Mignolet, while Fraizer Campbell and David Meyler (both knee) remain long-term absentees.
Meanwhile, Ferguson is happy to let Fabio Capello decide whether Wayne Rooney is fit enough to report for England duty next week.
Although the Manchester United boss declared on Tuesday that Rooney could be out for three weeks with the ankle injury he aggravated at Bolton last weekend, Ferguson has now revealed his star striker returned to training on Thursday.
As usual, Rooney is pestering his manager to play against Sunderland.
Ferguson has no intention of agreeing in an attempt to save the 24-year-old from himself and ensure he starts to do himself justice again.
But with England not due in action until their October Euro 2012 qualifier with Montenegro at Wembley, Ferguson is willing to hand Rooney over to Capello and trust the Italian's judgement.
"It is really up to Fabio," Ferguson told Key 103.
"You are talking about an extra 10 days. By that time, we would hope he will definitely be 100%.
"Wayne wants to play but now we have identified the injury, we have to be dead sure we are doing the right thing for him because he has not been doing himself the proper justice."
Not that Ferguson is condemning Rooney for his desperation to get involved.
Having scored just once this season - from the penalty spot - and been substituted after an hour at Bolton, many players would be happy to take a break from the limelight.
Rooney has never taken that attitude. But Ferguson feels the game has changed from the one where players could go into matches some way below their best.
"The problem with the lad is that he is too willing to play with injuries," said Ferguson.
"It is a great trait to have in any footballer. But with the speed and number of games you have these days, fitness levels are really important."
Rooney is not the only fitness issue Ferguson is having to contend with.
Slightly less clear-cut with Sunderland in mind is the availability of Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Anderson, who all started Wednesday's win in Valencia after extended periods on the sidelines.
"We are going to check them," revealed Ferguson.
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