Bruce targets first defeat of Fergie
Steve Bruce's remodelled Sunderland side take on the champions at Old Trafford on Saturday evening, with the Wearsider's boss searching for a first win against his former manager.
Sir Alex has become accustomed to meeting former players in the opposition dugout at Old Trafford, with son Darren, Mark Hughes, Alex McLeish, Paul Ince and Roy Keane all now plying their trade as managers.
A visit of Bruce is always that extra bit special though, as the former captain was the first United skipper in 35 years to lift the league title back in 1992. Bruce played an integral role in United's success in the 1990s and is adored by the club's fans. In 2005, he sparked controversy when, as Birmingham manager, he waved to United's away supporters at St Andrews, in response to chants of "Brucey, give us a wave".
Bruce has carved out a reputation as an astute Premier League boss and now at Sunderland, has a chance to improve his standing further, with significant financial backing available to help build his own team. Bruce cleared out a number of squad players over the summer and signings like Darren Bent, Michael Turner, John Mensah and captain Lorik Cana have gelled impressively as the Wearsiders have taken 12 points from their opening seven games, and currently lie 8th in the table.
Sir Alex's table-toppers are in imperious form having won their past eight games in a row, dispatching of Stoke last weekend before coming from behind to beat Wolfsburg in the Champions league on Wednesday. The evergreen Ryan Giggs has been in inspired form as United have bounced back from their suprise 1-0 defeat to Burnley in emphatic fashion with a string of victories.
In last season's encounter at Old Trafford, Nemanja Vidic grabbed a last-gasp winner to condemn the Wearsiders to a 1-0 defeat in Ricky Sbragia's first game in charge.
Rio Ferdinand v Darren Bent
Bent has had an outstanding start to the Premier League season, netting six goals in seven league games since his £10 million move from Spurs. The striker was restricted to a bit-part role at White Hart Lane, but has flourished under Bruce, building an imposing strike partnership with Kenwyne Jones.
Fabio Capello has overlooked Bent for the past few internationals but if the striker, who has four caps, continues his prolific start to the season, he could be knocking on the England door once again. And what better person to test his England credentials against than one of Capello's first-choice centre backs, Rio Ferdinand.
Ferdinand was the most relieved person at Old Trafford when Michael Owen grabbed the winner in last month's Manchester derby, after his mistake had handed Craig Bellamy the ball for City's third equaliser. Despite being recognised as one of the world's top defenders, Ferdinand has had an inauspicious start to the season, with injuries limiting him to just three appearances so far. But Ferdinand remains a crucial part of United's back-line and the continuation of his rock-solid partnership with Nemanja Vidic will be imperative if United are to retain their Premier League crown.
Darren Fletcher v Lorik Cana
Fletcher has been widely hailed as United's star performer at the start of this campaign, and is fast becoming one of Sir Alex's most valuable first-team players. The industrious midfielder has started six of United's seven league games this season, making a valuable contribution with two goals in the 4-3 victory over Manchester City.
The Scotland captain, a product of United's academy, has certainly been one of the most improved players at Old Trafford over the past few seasons and has produced a number of tenacious displays this campaign, earning praise for his ball-winning ability, consistent distribution and high work-rate.
Albanian international Cana has become an immediate fans' favourite at the Stadium of Light and the tough-tackling midfield general will prove a tough opponent for Fletcher. Bruce appointed him captain soon after his £5 million move from Marseille and he has quickly developed a robust central midfield partnership with Lee Cattermole, giving Sunderland a strength in the middle of the park that they have been lacking in recent seasons.
Dimitar Berbatov v Michael Turner
But the Bulgarian has struggled to find the net with the regularity he managed at Spurs, scoring 16 goals in 53 appearances for United, with his tap-in at Stoke last week only his second of the season. Berbatov's all-round contribution cannot be ignored though, and although he may not scamper around the pitch with the energy of Carlos Tevez, United's number nine can conjure moments of inspiration from seemingly impossible situations.
6 ft 4 in centre-back Turner has been a revelation since joining the Wearsiders from Hull City. Before moving to the Stadium of Light, the defender had caught the eye with a number of eye-catching performances for the Tigers, with Liverpool and Arsenal believed to be among his admirers. But the defender, chose to join Steve Bruce's revolution and has rewarded his new boss' faith with two goals in his first three league games. He will have his hands full with Berbatov but Turner's aerial prowess could certainly help subdue the Bulgarian.