United’s result at Stamford Bridge seems a lifetime ago due to the international break but may have given Jose Mourinho the chance to re-evaluate the last few weeks. To my surprise, he was quite upbeat following the defeat to his former club, but on reflection surely he can see just how poor his side were. United return to league action this Saturday and Jose will be hoping that the performances and the results pick up, as City are beginning to build an unassailable lead.
Newcastle next up
United welcome Newcastle to Old Trafford, in what should be a good honest test. Rafa Benitez has done a fabulous job so far, getting his side into the top 10 with a limited squad and a club that is constantly in the news for the wrong reasons. Newcastle would have been one of the relegation favourites heading in the season, but the Spaniard seems to have found a settled side to pick up results. At that back they are fairly solid and going forward they have some pace on the wings to cause enough nuisance to defences. Of course on paper this should not even be a contest, United should be sweeping these sides aside, especially at home and if this was 4 or 5 weeks ago you would put all of your money on that happening. But you would be a brave person to bet on United picking up all 3 points on Saturday evening. I have said for weeks that the performances have been on the slide for a while, seemingly stuck in defensive mode and for some reason playing 3 at the back.
For a manager who is praised repeatedly for his tactical nous, simply going like for like against the top boys is a naive approach and one that has so far not been very fruitful. Yes, they picked up 3 points against Spurs, but they didn’t deserve anything more than a point, having looked disjointed and lacking in any ideas throughout. The performance 2 weeks ago was then just as bad, but this time they got what they deserved, nothing!! How Mourinho could come out and describe it as an even game whilst keeping a straight face is beyond me. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but United simply do not possess the players to play 3 at the back and with it only being used in certain games, it is unlikely to look anything but disjointed.
No doubt, we will see a return to 4 at the back and hopefully an upturn in performance. They no longer need or more importantly can afford to play defensively, they need to start picking up 3 points and with some further tough games to come, no more so than City, it is imperative that they do not drift even further behind. I expect them to have enough to see off Newcastle at home, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see more dross and points dropped either. If it is the latter, then the title is just about out of sight for them in November, which considering the start United had, is a ridiculous statement.
Top 6 Saturday
Elsewhere on Saturday, unusually the remainder of the top 6 play, with one stand out game. As with the past few weeks, there is a huge showdown, this time in North London as Arsenal welcome Spurs to the Emirates. Spurs seem likely to once more be the main title contender for the current leaders, although they are way behind. They currently possess a big and youthful squad that is full of talent. The results in the Champions League against Real Madrid will only push them on even further and for me, they are the only side that I can see giving City a good game. The trip to Arsenal is never easy and for 15 minutes against City, they looked like they could possibly push out a result, but a combination of terrible defending and dubious decisions saw an end to that. Arsene Wenger’s men find themselves cut adrift from the top 3 again, but a win on Saturday lunchtime would give them the confidence that they could get back into the top 4 at the least. I see this being a very entertaining game, high scoring and could see any of the 3 possible results happening. I will go for an entertaining draw if I had to make a decision.
Liverpool have a home game against Southampton, looking to continue where they left off 2 weeks ago. The injury to Sadio Mane will be a blow and hopefully this won’t be a regular issue for the Senegal star. He is a cracking player, yet another who United missed out on following Mourinho’s arrival, and a really big player for Jurgen Klopp. As is Philippe Coutinho who before the international break suffered another injury set back, so with Mane out, Klopp would love to have the option to call on the little Brazilian playmaker. Southampton are a strange side and not seemingly doing very well but remain probably one of the sides who could turn up and beat one of the top 6. Virgil Van Dijk was hoping to be a Liverpool player at this time of the season, so that will add some further spice to this game. I only see a Liverpool win in this, they will be too good for the Saints going forward.
Chelsea then travel to West Brom, who normally would be a tough test, but Tony Pulis and his side are really struggling at the moment, mainly on the attacking front. Chelsea will be high in confidence off the back of their win and performance against United, I thought they were excellent and if they keep getting Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas on the ball as much as they did 2 weeks ago, Alvaro Morata will go close to being the top scorer in the league. I thought Morata himself was also brilliant and showed Lukaku how to play as a big front man. In Lukaku’s defence, he did not get anywhere near the same supply as Morata received so it is harsh to compare the 2. Had the Belgian been in Blue, I think he would have scored and the Spaniard would have looked very average.
To finish, the league leaders travel to the King Power to play Leicester. Once more another potential banana skin arrives for Pep’s men, but I expect once more another will be put to the sword by the best attacking side in the league by a long long way. I can not see Leicester’s defence being good enough to cope with the attacking flair that City possess, with Pep’s hardest decision being to choose between Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, what a terrible position to be in!! I see Leicester scoring, however, but I feel they will need more than one to take anything from this one. Expect another three points for City and more pressure piles on United before they play in the late game.
Even though we are only 11 games in, every week seems tough for United currently. City are deserving of their 8 point advantage over the rest and don’t be surprised if this is 10 by 19:30 on Saturday.