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Time has mellowed once-bitter Jose Mourinho-Rafael Benitez rivalry

Manchester United correspondent Rob Dawson grades Jose Mourinho and how his side have performed so far this season.

Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez have crossed paths, and swords, so many times that even Mrs. Benitez got involved at one point.

"We tidy up his messes," she said in 2015, having seen her husband follow Mourinho at Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea.

It was meant as a joke. Mourinho, though, did not see the funny side.

"The lady is a bit confused," he responded.

"The only club where her husband replaced me was at Inter Milan, where in six months he destroyed the best team in Europe at the time."

When Manchester United and Newcastle go head-to-head at Old Trafford on Saturday, it will be the latest installment of the Mourinho-Benitez rivalry that has been going on for more than 13 years.

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It started, so the story goes, over the Liverpool job in 2004.

Benitez got it and Mourinho went to Chelsea, instead.

It is likely that if Mourinho had ended up at Liverpool -- "Liverpool are a team that interests everyone and Chelsea does not interest me so much because it is a new project with lots of money invested in it," he said while still Porto boss -- Benitez would have gone to Stamford Bridge.

The first battles on the pitch went to Mourinho. Chelsea won both league games against Liverpool on their way to the 2004-05 title, and the 2005 League Cup final that was contested between the two clubs.

But two months later, Luis Garcia's "ghost goal" earned Liverpool a place in the Champions League final at Chelsea's expense.

Mourinho and Benitez had largely stayed out of each other's way until that point. And then it changed.

"The best team lost," Mourinho said.

"After they scored only one team played, the other one just defended for the whole game.

"This was a copy of the Carling Cup final in Cardiff, where Liverpool scored early and then defended. The linesman scored the goal."

The careers of Mourinho and Benitez are intertwined.

Mourinho moved from Chelsea to Inter Milan to Real Madrid and back to Chelsea.

Benitez succeeded Mourinho at the San Siro, and also came later at Real Madrid and Chelsea. When the Spaniard left Stamford Bridge in 2013, it was Mourinho who took over.

Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez will meet on Saturday for the first time in a decade.

It has left them better placed than most to judge each other's work. And it has not always been complimentary.

"Mourinho talks a lot about a lot of people, but I prefer to talk about facts," Benitez said in 2014.

"At Liverpool, with a squad half of the value of Chelsea, we twice knocked his Chelsea side out of the Champions League.

"With the most expensive squad at Real Madrid, he did nothing in the Champions League."

Mourinho had his turn, too.

"I watched every game of Chelsea against City in the last year," Mourinho said after replacing Benitez at Stamford Bridge in 2013.

"I saw the game at Wembley, the game at home, the game at City, I saw even parts of the friendlies in the States.

"Mental. Not tactical. Nothing. Mental. Afraid to assume. Afraid to go. Afraid to say we want to win, we can win."

They may have been at many of the same clubs, but it is Mourinho, who leads the head-to-head record with seven wins from 16 games, who boasts the better CV.

He has won league titles in Portugal, England, Spain and Italy, as well as the Champions League and UEFA Cup/Europa League twice each.

Benitez won the Champions League with Liverpool,  two Spanish titles and the UEFA Cup with Valencia -- an incredible achievement given the dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid -- as well as the Europa League with Chelsea.

The Spaniard, though, lasted just six months after replacing Mourinho at Inter and a month longer at Real Madrid.

Marco Materazzi summed up why things did not work out in Milan.

"What I did not like was the way he presented himself to the players," said the defender.

"Great coaches like Mourinho use unwritten rules, but Benítez wanted to write 10 or 12 things down. It was like we were back to school or had to follow traffic rules."

It is 10 years since Mourinho and Benitez were together in the Premier League.

Their last meeting was a 1-1 draw between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield in August 2007 -- a month before Mourinho left Stamford Bridge.

It is enough time, it seems, for the relationship to mend.

"I don't think the rivalry was with Rafael," Mourinho said this week.

"I think the rivalry was between our clubs rather than between us.

"We are managers from the same generation, we came to England in the same season and we were both successful in the European competitions.

"Not many won the Champions League and Europa League. We are some of the few managers that did it.

"Of course between Liverpool and Chelsea, in the big matches rivalry happens but I respect him, his talent, his career and I want to believe that he feels the same."

It is maybe that the respect has grown greater over time between two managers who have more in common than they probably care to admit.

Or that, for Mourinho, the rivalry has been overtaken in a league that also includes Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte, Arsene Wenger and Mauricio Pochettino.

"We were good friends until Liverpool started winning," Benitez said, reflecting on those Chelsea-Liverpool spats. "Then he started changing his mind."

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.

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