STEVE BRUCE knows all about the modern-day rivalry between Newcastle United and Manchester United. Back in March 1996, the current Magpies manager was involved in one of the most famous recent games between the two sides when a combination of Peter Schmeichel’s goalkeeping heroics and Eric Cantona’s composed finishing enabled Manchester United to earn a 1-0 win at Gallowgate that ultimately played a crucial role in them depriving Newcastle of the title.

Two Premier League heavyweights, slugging it out in a title decider. Had that game been taking place tomorrow, it really would have been a ‘Super Sunday’. Instead, Sky’s flagship weekend selection is a reminder of just how far both clubs have fallen. Bruce’s shift from the heart of the Manchester United back four to the Newcastle dugout merely serves as another reminder of how much has changed.

Newcastle’s struggles in the first two months of the current campaign have been well documented, but given their status as the richest club in the world, and the outlay of around £900m that has been squandered since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down in 2013, it could be argued that as they prepare to return to St James’ Park tomorrow, Manchester United’s current problems are more acute.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side sit tenth in the table ahead of this weekend’s matches, and have already lost to Crystal Palace and West Ham as well as drawing with Rochdale this season. They have failed to win in ten successive away games for the first time since 1989, a run that stretches back to March’s surprise Champions League success at Paris St Germain, and on Thursday, in a Europa League game against AZ Alkmaar, they failed to record a single shot on target. So much for Bruce being the only manager heading into tomorrow’s game trying to fend off flak.

“I think I’ve got enough on my plate without worrying about what Ole has on his,” was Bruce’s diplomatic response when asked to comment on his former club’s plight, but even he acknowledges the scale of the task Solskjaer has taken on as he attempts to rebuild at Old Trafford. “I wish him all the best. He’s got a hard job, but he’s been given a wonderful opportunity.

“Listen, I don’t think I’ve ever beaten them, which is a worry of course. I had the privilege to play there for a long time. It was a long time ago, but they’re one of the great clubs of Europe. It’ll be a big occasion, but it will always be a fantastic fixture because of the history and tradition of both clubs.”

Like Bruce, Solskajer’s position has been under threat pretty much from the moment he was appointed, and like the man in the opposite dug-out this afternoon, the Norwegian has discovered that a love of the club he is presiding over does not make him immune from stinging criticism.

In Bruce’s case, the knives were sharpened again in the wake of last weekend’s capitulation against Leicester, but the North-Easterner continues to insist he is capable of handling the abuse that is coming his way.

“I’m a resilient so-and-so,” he said. “Listen, you wouldn’t be human if it didn’t affect you in some way, but you try to get on with your job as best you can, and thankfully I’ve got a few years under my belt with experience to cope with it. The flak always stops with me at the top of the tree.”

Newcastle (probable, 3-4-2-1): Dubravka; Schar, Lascelles, Dummett; Yedlin, Longstaff, Shelvey, Willems; Almiron, Saint-Maximin; Joelinton.