Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is an admirer of the job done by Steve Bruce as Sunderland boss, but intends to put a dent in his protege's progress when the teams clash in the Premier League on Sunday.
Sunderland has risen to sixth in the standings by winning four and losing only one of its past eight matches, and goes to Old Trafford with more confidence than usual at the intimidating venue.
Bruce, who featured in three of Ferguson's title winning sides, has molded a young side into potential Europe qualifiers during his 18 months in charge.
Manchester United tops the table by two points, thanks in no small part to Sunderland having beaten title aspirants Chelsea and Manchester City while holding second-place Arsenal to a draw.
"Steve's changed the club around," Ferguson said. "He's brought different types of player in. He's brought in (Darren) Bent and (Asamoah) Gyan, he's brought through the boy (Jordan) Henderson who's doing fantastically well, he's brought back (Lee) Cattermole and he's shaped his own team."
Despite being a manager for 12 years, Bruce still looks up to Ferguson — even if his sides have never managed to beat United in 16 attempts.
"I will owe him a debt for the rest of my days," the 49-year-old former defender said. "He is the most outstanding manager there has ever been.
"Whatever era you are in, to manage Manchester United for 24 years and win the trophies he has won is incredible ... I don't think anyone else will ever come anywhere near it."
While the game has an aura of master and apprentice, a win by Sunderland will bring the Black Cats within four points of United.
"All the lads have their feet on the ground — we know what is ahead," Sunderland defender Phil Bardsley said. "We have got a tough second half of the season and this Christmas period now will show where teams are going to lie. We will look forward to it and hopefully pick as many points up as possible."
Sunderland will be without seven first-team players. Striker Danny Welbeck is ineligible under the terms of the loan agreement between the Black Cats and United, while captain Lee Cattermole is suspended and John Mensah, Titus Bramble, Michael Turner, David Meyler and Fraizer Campbell are all injured.
Last season, Bruce's team came within seconds of victory at Old Trafford — where Sunderland has not won for 42 years — until Anton Ferdinand's own goal gifted United an equalizer.
The pressure is on United to capture three points on Sunday with second-place Arsenal taking on Chelsea the following night.
Chelsea is enduring its worst league run for more than a decade, having won just one of its past seven games and slumped from top to fourth spot.
Arsenal, though, could be the perfect opponent having beaten its London rival in their last five meetings in all competitions, including a 2-0 triumph at Stamford Bridge in October.
Long-term Injuries to John Terry, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien had hit Chelsea hard, but all three are set to feature at Emirates Stadium.
"We've been disappointing in our last six games and it's a big contrast to how we started the season, but we have a lot of big players back to fitness and it's going to give us a boost," said Chelsea defender Ashley Cole said. "Any team who has their top players out is going to be affected.
"The players who have come in have done a good job but you're always going to miss JT, Lamps and Essien. We seem to play better when they are all in the team ... we have missed their personalities, desire, will to win and leadership."
Arsenal has conceded 13 goals in its past five matches against Chelsea. Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie are available to make their first start together since August, while goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski is also available.
"We want to put a top-level performance in at the Emirates and show we are masters at home," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "I'm surprised that we lost five games (this season) — three of them at home against teams who are not normally fighting for the championship — but we're still near the top. The good news is that we are still in a good position and have not paid a high price for that.
"Of course our home form in the second part of the season will be the decider."
Arsenal's home match against Chelsea is the only match on Monday.Reuse content