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Odd couple relishing time alone

Two more contrasting players you could not find. One: languid, laid-back, relaxed on the ball, never in a rush; the other: an energetic, intense, pitbull of a striker who makes others around him look lazy by comparison.

• Manchester derby preview

It is no mistake that the perception of Dimitar Berbatov in the Premier League has risen sharply since his pairing alongside the tigerish Carlos Tevez at Manchester United was brought to an end. Tevez's reputation - certainly on pitch if not off it - has also improved after the relationship was terminated by his decision to move to rivals Manchester City and, given the chance to play regular games and lead the line, both men have enjoyed a new lease of life since their enforced separation.

Now the pair, who represent the top two strikers in English football, will go head-to-head on Saturday lunchtime in the Manchester derby with their unhappy memories of their time together in a red shirt still fresh in their minds.

Nearly two years ago, their fortunes were looking vastly different. Left out of the starting line-up for the side that lost 2-0 to Barcelona in the 2008 Champions League final, Berbatov and Tevez were at low points of their careers. Unable to keep up the kind of form that is expected at Old Trafford, it looked likely that they would become relegated to the scrapheap of expensive foreign flops that had Chelsea's Andrei Shevchenko already drawing attention to the issue.

But they have always divided opinion in English football. Berbatov's easy swagger led to criticism for a lack of effort, most noticeable when United are struggling and need an injection of passion. Too often, he was found wanting in big games while, at the same time, his graceful touch and incisive vision gave a tantalising insight into his potential.

Tevez's attitude to training regimes, commitment to his clubs and ultimately his desire to continue playing football, have also been brought into question, despite his impressive record while on the pitch. At United, many of the club's fans could understand why Berbatov was continually being played ahead of the Argentine, but Sir Alex Ferguson's decision was made easier at the end of the 2008-09 season when - along with £80 million worth of Cristiano Ronaldo - Tevez chose to leave of his own accord.

Many fans would have wanted to keep both, but were left dismayed by the fact that Berbatov continued to struggle in the year after, while Tevez hit the ground running with 23 goals in 32 games in his first season for his new club. It was speculated that Fergie had made the wrong choice as the Bulgarian was overshadowed by the exploits of Rooney - who reaped the benefits of the lone striker role - but the shoots of recovery were beginning to be seen.

Berbatov's decision to quit international football in May 2010 seemed to give him more focus and he evidently learnt something from his time alongside Tevez as his desire to track back and work-rate improved. Forced to step into the breach in the absence of Rooney at the beginning of this season, some incredible form saw a transformation completed and those who had clamoured to keep him over Tevez felt vindicated.

Eighteen months on and it is clear that both strikers have benefited from their own time in the spotlight. Notably, since Tevez joined City, neither striker has scored in a Manchester derby in the Premier League - although Tevez bagged three goals in two games against United in an ultimately doomed Carling Cup effort - but their goalscoring exploits elsewhere this season have elevated them to unprecedented levels.

Fans can only dream of what this diverse partnership could have achieved together, once given the time to gel, but both players are certainly relishing their own space. Saturday will provide them a chance to prove how different they truly are.

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