“If City manage to brush Chelsea aside and take all three points, you have to ask yourself where are they going to drop points?” Kieran Davies looks ahead to this weekend’s fixtures.
You were one-nil down psychologically before you even set foot on the pitch. The worst thing you could do would be to score early on as they would bombard you with wave after wave of attack until your defensive line buckles and then they would take advantage. The final quarter of the game they were at their most destructive, renowned for ‘Fergie-Time’ they turned defeat into victory, time and time again. They won on the road week after week and made teams look out of their depth regularly. Finish above Manchester United, you will win the league. The best players in the world want to play for them and the crest on the shirt, willing to walk across hot coals for it.
In the not too distant past, this would sum up the team from the red half of Manchester season after season. Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, managers have come and gone but no one has been able to fill the void left by the Scotsman. What must hurt more for United and their fans is the fact that the previous comments would quite aptly describe Pep’s Manchester City now. Crushing teams who dare turn up at the Etihad Stadium, Pep rotates but his side keep scoring goals and winning emphatically. Goals are coming from all over the pitch and many of City’s players are at the peak of their careers. Nobody wants to face them in the knockout stage of the Champions League and their manager is regarded as one if not THE world’s best. Financially rich, wealth of world class talent and excellent youth facilities has meant that Pep wants for nothing and no player is out of their reach. The similarities between Ferguson’s United and Pep’s City are quite spooky.
A trip to Sarri’s Chelsea will be a stern test of where both of these managers are with their squads so far this season. After defeats against Tottenham and Wolves, Chelsea fans will expect to see their team bounce back by beating the champions. This may seem confident, but these are the expectations of a club who have dominated this league not so long ago. To keep players like Kante and Hazard you need to be competing for titles. Having seen Liverpool drop points at Stamford Bridge, Guardiola will know the importance of bettering their rival’s result. It can be the difference in being crowned champions or not come the end of the season. Klopp’s team play in the early kick-off this weekend, visiting the south coast to play Bournemouth. Howe’s team have been inconsistent at best but are still capable of making Liverpool work for three points as Burnley showed during the week. Dropping points in games such as these is one of the main reasons there has been no title challenge for far too long. Klopp seems to have addressed this from what we have seen so far this season, which could make them a completely different proposition.
Even this early in the campaign, mini-leagues are starting to form as London competes for Champions League places with Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal having their say. With Tottenham kicking off Saturday evening against Leicester, they will have the advantage of having seen their opponent’s results. A trip to Leicester offers a real potential banana skin. Pochettino’s side are playing good football and scoring goals but they too took a blow in defeat in the North London derby to Arsenal. Between these sides only two points separate them and they are at least eight points clear of Everton. After Pickford’s howler in their derby, a disappointing draw at home with Newcastle has halted their good form. With their manager’s ex-employers visiting Goodison Park, this could act as a springboard to get back to winning ways.
Cardiff City probably have the most important game of their life in the Premier League this weekend with Southampton heading to Wales. While The Saints have some talented players on their books, the side have struggled this season and I think the players have to take a look at themselves after getting their manager sacked. Ralph Hasenhuttl will take charge of his first game as manager of Southampton, having watched his side create enough chances to have won the game at Wembley in the week, it was a very positive performance which he will hope to build on. Seeing how Neil Warnock is enjoying being a Premier League manager at 70 years old brings a smile to your face every time you see him interviewed. His tactics are a reality check for just how good his side are in comparison to the sides they face. He knows what Cardiff are and how they can utilise their weaknesses as positives against teams who are expected to beat them.
Despite being at the bottom of the table, from what I have seen, I fancy Fulham to beat the drop. Ranieri is a class manager and tactically his direct style of football gets results. Leicester’s winning the title shows just how well he knows this league and how to get results in it. Burnley may not have enough to get out of this scrap however. In the main the same squad as last season, people may wonder why they can’t replicate what they have done every season that I can remember but Dyche is an overachiever. Finishing in the top half of the table or being past the forty-point mark by Christmas have been feats that he has achieved with a squad that should be in the mix for a relegation battle most seasons. If Dyche can no longer get these players to play to his high standards, could it be time Burnley call it a day on their manager? Could anyone else get that squad to perform to the potential they showed under their predecessor? Just ask Claude Puel.
If City manage to brush Chelsea aside and take all three points, you have to ask yourself where are they going to drop points? Will the demands of the latter rounds of the Champions League take its toll? Will Liverpool even be involved in this? Are the different mini-leagues a true reflection of the strength of teams and who their equals are currently. One thing that will not have changed over the course of this weekend is just how tight it is within these mini-leagues. It makes every round of fixtures so much more exciting as things can and often do change drastically. Who will be the next manager to be told to down tools? Things change and happen faster than any scriptwriter could even dream up in this league. Who only knows what we will be talking about this time next year? Can Jose Mourinho steer the country through a Brexit deal that will actually benefit us as a country and will Theresa May’s Manchester United bounce back after their home defeat to Barnet in the FA Cup?