I did a quick tot-up before I started putting virtual pen to virtual paper (alright, a MacBook you got me) and I reckon there’s been 3825 football matches played since I last spoke to you. It seems those moaning managers might actually have a point. I mean, how can elite level footballers with every single invention sports science has ever produced at their fingertips possibly cope?
But we are back and the Premier League paymasters have been kind enough to give us quite a tasty weekend of football to get stuck into. Predictions ahoy!
It’s 2020 and Ravel Morrison and Jack Rodwell are both at a top half Premier League club. No, you are not playing Football Manager 2012 – it’s real. Chris Wilder looked at his over-performing squad, many collected in the League One days, and felt that Rodwell was the ideal addition – after all, dear old Rodderz did so well for Sunderland in League One, right?
We only needed Rodwell to announce he was ‘home’ and he would have been on the same PR level as David Moyes who, I presume, turned down every job offer sent his way before accepting a phone call that would seal his return to his spiritual workplace.
To be fair to Moyes, something I hate saying, he’s had the instant impact many other clubs were hoping for when they made their changes. A 4-0 home win certainly gets the fans back on side after a miserable run of form, but we must not forget that this is a very West Ham thing to do. The side are still just outside the relegation battle, and what will happen after the players’ initial enthusiasm for a bit of Scottish TLC wears off?
Tactically, David Moyes must have been delighted to return to this squad. His side are hardly short of quality, even if the mindset is a little bit suspect. If he can get them defending, there’s enough going forward to see them right. Besides, it’s unlikely they’ll be sent out to press high up the pitch – that will suit the likes of Lanzini, Felipe Anderson et al who are much happier slowly jogging back into shape than chasing shadows in the hope of getting the ball back early.
Seba Haller could well be the player who benefits most from Moyes’ arrival, given his attributes and the fact that Moyes is more likely to play a style that suits the Frenchman than his predecessor who just lost his way looking forward to the £10m payoff.
The Blades will be confident, however. We’ve seen two fairly disciplined West Ham performances in a row, meaning this is a very good time to play them. It will be overlapping wingbacks to the max, as Sheff Utd look to expose Pablo Zabaleta whose legs are definitely a bit suspect now.
Wilder to win – I can see this being 2-1 to Sheff Utd, one from a well-worked move down their left and the second, a thumping set-piece.
Yet another young, rookie manager gets his afternoon against the Godfather of football management in Uncle Roy Hodgson. There’s one man I will forgive for talking about the exerts of festive football, and that is Hodgson. Given that he seems to have a squad of about 14 players and some of them are injured, it is little wonder Palace started to look a little jaded in the FA Cup.
Arsenal fans are, understandably, starting to feel like 2020 might be better than 2019, 2018 and (probably) 2017 now that Mikel Arteta is in charge. He’s providing all the correct soundbites, looks completely unruffled (admit it, you really want to ruffle that hair, don’t you?) and even seems to be getting them to play a bit of that winning football malarkey. OK, it was against Man United so we shouldn’t get too excited but it’s better than that offensive dross Emery was spewing out.
Arteta knows a thing or two about winning at Selhurst.
The makeup of this match will be of no surprise. Palace will sit deep and be hard for Arsenal to break down and then rely on quick counterattacks where they can hurt Arsenal in their weakest spots – namely Granit Xhaka and David Luiz.
Arsenal will look to move the ball quickly and switch play as often as possible, hoping to pull the Palace defence out of position. For this reason, I would expect Ozil to start behind Auba and Laca and I think they will do damage.
This could be one of the more tactically interesting matches to watch this weekend – can Palace shackle Ozil in midfield and then expose the numbskull nature of Xhaka? Will Arteta play 4-4-2 or 3-4-3? If he plays Reiss Nelson as a right-wing back, will Wilf Zaha have a field day? Can Benteke or Ayew go and make Luiz’s afternoon miserable, creating space in that fragile Arsenal defence? Will Auba continue his trait of scoring goals against ‘weaker’ sides?
Strap yourselves in – no but yes, 3-4-3, yes, maybe and I would expect so. Arsenal to take this 3-1.
Jose’s mask started to slip against Southampton, no? All talk of being a changed man often disappears down the swanny when you are losing to a relegation threatened side. The deeper Mourinho gets into his Spurs tenure, the more problems he is finding – and it’s not just Serge Aurier that is a worry. A new contract doesn’t seem to have fixed Toby Alderweireld, Moussa Sissoko is out for a while now and it says a lot about the state of the side when that is a bad thing and, of course, Kane is hamstrung.
On the flip side, all is rosy in the garden of Jurgen Klopp. Most of his senior players got last weekend off as the U18s knocked neighbours Everton out of the cup. Liverpool look stronger every time they play in the league and they are clear favourites in this clash.
Why? OK, I’ll state the obvious for you.
Exhibit #1 – Sadio Mane vs Aurier. I mean, it could get very messy.
Exhibit #2 – Mo Salah vs Danny Rose or Ben Davies. See above.
Exhibit #3 – Tottenham don’t really have a midfield that are likely to outrun or overpower whichever selection Kloppo goes with.
However, there is one area that Spurs could focus on. Parking the bus. I know, shocking right? Jose and a bus? But, without Kane they are going to have to rely on the pace of Sonny and Lucas Moura in attack so if Christian Eriksen can pick them out early in the spaces left by TAA and Robbo there is every chance we might get the classic Mourinho 1-0.
As much as I can see that being the way Spurs play, I just cannot see that result. I’m going for a relatively simple 2-0 win for Liverpool and Serge Aurier almost certainly to get booked.
Sourpuss will have a keen eye out for perceived skullduggery.
This is 100% a relegation battle. In the red corner, we have Bournemouth who are utterly woeful at the moment. In the yellow corner, we have Watford who are doing a fine job of enhancing the reputation of one Nigel Pearson.
Sure, Watford carelessly let a 3-0 lead against Tranmere slip but they are not the team they were a couple of months ago and, as importantly, neither are Bournemouth.
Dominic Solanke needs to take his cup goalscoring form into the league and Calum Wilson needs to get firing again for Bournemouth to turn this around. Plus, Eddie Howe might have to finally accept that some of his defenders are now, at best, lower Championship level and that while loyalty is nice, it ultimately leads to relegation.
Logic points to nothing other than a Watford win here, but Bournemouth (if it actually clicks) are capable of beating any one not in the top-six.
Watford will be well drilled and counter-attacking with at least one of their quick lads playing off big Troy Deeney. But, if Bournemouth can cope with that threat and remember how to play their own high-tempo attacking game then they will create chances against Watford – Ben Foster is still a very busy keeper and has been worth quite a few points for the Hornets, even since Pearson arrived. This suggests they do ship chances. The problem is, Bournemouth don’t have a single striker currently scoring them.
Neither team will want to lose this for different reasons – for Bournemouth, it’s another L in a row which could see them in the bottom three by next week. For Watford, a draw slows the momentum gained in recent weeks. But, a draw it shall be: 1-1.
How many do you reckon? Three? Four? Five? More?
I’m not talking Man City goals, actually. I’m talking tactical fouls on Jack Grealish.
If Villa are to have any hope at all of getting something from this one, and to be clear – they have absolutely no chance of getting anything from this one – it’s vital Grealish is able to find space to drive the ball from midfield and see what happens from there. Unfortunately for Jack, who I believe is still fighting Adam Traore for the crown of most fouled footballer this season, he is up against the masters of the clever foul, no matter how much Pep denies it.
Villa are without Tom Heaton (bad news for them) and Wesley (arguably good news for them). It doesn’t really matter who City have and do not have available, they could pick the names out of a hat and still be clear favourites even if Ederson came out as left-back. Actually, having watched Mendy during the week that might not be as daft as it sounds.
If Mendy does play, he is the only weak point in this City side and he’s not actually that bad. We are clutching at straws, to be honest. What is more likely is that City will rock up, have 75% of the ball and if they score early will rack up quite a few before easing off in the second half.
But, if Villa can (by some miracle) get to half-time at 0-0, some doubts might start to creep into the City minds. Not likely though, they are gunning for Leicester.
I rolled the dice and it landed on four. So, 4-0 City and we will be purring about the quality of KDB’s assists.
All images - PA. Numbers and stats via WhoScored.
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