It was very much advantage Manchester after last weekend’s results. Neither Manchester clubs would have expected to gain a further 2 point advantage on the other 4 main contenders (yes I am still including Arsenal for now) with a quick look at the fixtures. They would have expected Chelsea to be too strong for Arsenal and then certainly expect big home wins for Liverpool and Spurs against Burnley and Swansea respectively. It is certainly too early to call it a 2 horse race, but on current form it is looking more and more likely that the title will be heading north, but to which side of the city is still very much up in the air. Here I have a look at the latest round of fixtures and what may happen.
For the first weekend in a while there is no standout game or games. But there are a few tough away fixtures that could see a trip up for one or more of United’s main challengers. The first is the early Saturday kick-off when Spurs make the very short trip across the city to play West Ham. Spurs were my bankers last weekend and barring some misfortune with the crossbar they would have won the game, but it was certainly another 2 points dropped at Wembley than a point gained. No London derby is ever straight forward and I think Slaven Bilic is starting to get a good feel for his best side. He needs to desperately find a way to get Chicharito playing through the middle with Andy Carroll to add the goals he will require to move his side up the league. They are currently playing with 3 at the back, and along with Everton and Arsenal, I do not see why they are playing that formation. Sides seem obsessed with the change to 3 at the back because of Chelsea’s success last season rather than because it suits their style and squad. West Ham have 2 strikers who should complement each other very well and be a danger for most defences in the league, but instead, the fox in the box is chucked out wide where he can hardly impact the game. Spurs, on the other hand, have 3 or 4 brilliant centre-halves, excellent attacking wing backs and multiple attacking options to justify playing with 3 at the back. If West Ham go into this game playing like for like, I don’t see anything but a Spurs victory. If Bilic mixes it up, goes with 2 up top and gets at the Spurs defence, I think they have every chance of producing a positive result.
For the first time this season, United to do not feature as one of the live games of the weekend. Instead, they are playing at the very rare time of 3pm on Saturday against Southampton. I probably won’t be alone in this thinking, but I thought Southampton have been struggling this season, mainly in the goals for department, but when I saw the table at the weekend I was surprised to see them in 9th above West Brom and Watford who seem to me to have had a superb start. Anyway, the trip to Southampton does not feel as daunting as it once did or maybe it should, they dont carry the same threat to the top 6 as they did in season’s gone by. I feel United should win this easily, with a fairly fresh squad due to the gaffer resting 9 players in midweek and Anthony Martial playing himself into even better form, I find it hard to see the Saints keeping United out enough times to win the game.
Out of the top 6, it is not only United who are due to play at 3pm on Saturday, with City and Chelsea both facing off with contrasting match ups. Chelsea face a tough trip to Stoke, where both Arsenal and United have slipped up already. The trip to Stoke is notoriously hard and I don’t see this being any different. Although last time out they slipped to a 2-1 defeat at St James’ Park, at the Bet365 they are a different animal. Chelsea will do well to pick up 3 points on Saturday especially after what they will feel was dropped points at home to Arsenal last weekend. Like United, Antonio Conte was able to rest a number of his stars in midweek so they will be fresh a raring to go and they will need all the energy they have in this one. David Luiz will be a huge miss at the back but one thing Stoke do not possess is huge amount of goals and rely heavily on their big 3 centre-halves to keep the goals out at the other end, so the absence of Luiz may not be fully felt on Saturday.
City, on the other hand, have one of those games that look like an absolute formality, when the goalless and pointless Crystal Palace visit the Etihad. Surely this has an absolute thumping on the cards for Roy Hodgson’s men, but then I thought that last week when Swansea faced Spurs and Arsenal went to Stamford Bridge, but these games do often have a way of springing up a surprise. However, I don’t see any chance of that happening, City are just playing too well not to score at least 3. I would imagine Palace will go there to try and hit them on the break, playing with as much pace in the top 3 positions as possible with the hope that they can sneak a goal and hang on. Hodgson will have his work cut out however and a thrashing at the Etihad could have a serious knock on the confidence of his squad, especially when they are due to travel to fellow high scorers, United next weekend. I think a goal would be the most they could hope for.
In the late game on Saturday, Liverpool will look to get some sort of momentum going when they once again travel to Leicester in the hope they have a better result than on Tuesday night. I didn’t see the game but I have read and heard that Liverpool dominated play, created enough chances to win 3 games but their defence was not good enough. But this sounds like the Liverpool blueprint of the last few seasons when they face a lower opposition. They badly miss Sadio Mane just like they did last season and I really can not wait to see how he gets he and Coutinho into the same side. Liverpool can not afford to drop any more points on the Manchester points, even at this early stage so I think this is a must-win for them, which I think they will do. Jurgen Klopp has some serious work to do in order to turn his side from an entertaining attacking side into a legitimate title contender.
The one remaining title rival do not play until Monday evening, when Arsenal face West Brom at home. The point at Stamford Bridge was a big one, not in terms of points but the fact they did not lose and looked fairly dangerous as well. With more luck, they easily could have walked away with the 3 points, something that I don’t think anyone would have predicted, not even the most die-hard Gunner. Wenger has something to build on at last and a home game at West Brom is not a bad way to continue that run.Although tough in defence, I don’t think they possess the greatest of attacking threat so they should be free to play their own game and try to get some valuable points on the board. Much has been made of their performance against Liverpool, and rightly so, but I still see Arsenal blowing most teams away at home and expect Alexandre Lacazette to start knocking in many goals in the coming weeks. The return of Alexis Sanchez to the starting 11 will no doubt help this and can only see an Arsenal win here.
So, a weekend where the top 6 will all fancy to pick up 3 points. It is more than likely one of them will fail to do so, but who is anyone’s guess. From a United standpoint, momentum is key and the chance to continue putting a gap between them and the majority of their rivals is vital at this early stage before the fixtures build up, injuries kick in and more importantly, the big games arrive thick and fast.