Midweek premier league football is back this week and I am one who thinks there is not enough of it. There is a full fixture list to be played in what is probably the start of the long slog into the New Year and for United the run of three crucial games.
Watford will be tough
Tuesday and Saturday evening will have a big say in how this season will pan out for United, as they have 2 tough games in the capital whereas City have on paper 2 very winnable fixtures. First up is a trip to Watford, that in days gone by wouldn’t be seen as a tough away day, but Marco Silva has his side playing some good football and United will do well to get out of this with any points. Of course you could look to how City destroyed them and think this shouldn’t be a problem, but United are nowhere near City’s level at the moment and more importantly have a manager who looks to go and win games whether it be at home or away.
In last week’s preview I asked for more of the same from Mourinho following the more attacking display against Newcastle. The side was certainly the same but the performance was far from it. In all honesty, I think the game in midweek had a big impact on the Brighton game as the poor showing against Basel, coupled with changes to the starting 11 resulted in a disjointed display. They will need to improve on Tuesday to get any change out of Watford and I expect more alterations to the side from Mourinho which I personally do not think is necessary. United have struggled for consistency over the past 3 months and that has to rest with the manager’s ability to know his best side and trust in players he clearly doesn’t. I couldn’t call this game, but I do know United will need to be at their very best.
Spurs also have a tough away day
Spurs also play tonight and are also away at Claude Puel’s Leicester. Since beating Real Madrid it seems that Spurs have forgotten how to perform in the league. A hammering at Arsenal and then dropped points at home to West Brom last weekend has all but ended any hope of mounting a serious title challenge this season. The trip to Leicester will be tough as I think they are a decent outfit going forward and have the ability to keep it tight at the back. Spurs have not been as strong defensively this season and there seems to be some unrest around the Danny Rose saga that maybe is having a wider impact on the side. Spurs will want to get back to winning ways and hope City can drop some points over the festive period but for me they are playing for top 4 only. I said at the start of the season that no trophies and a drop out of the Champions League could be curtains for some of Pochettino’s young stars. They would have seen what has happened to Kyle Walker and probably fancy a bit if the same. They need to pick up form domestically but I think this will be a tough game for them to do that.
On Wednesday, the remaining 4 clubs making up the top 6 play. Arsenal welcome Huddersfield to the Emirates, City are home to Southampton, Chelsea entertain Swansea and Liverpool travel to Stoke.
City struggled to break down Huddersfield on Sunday and Southampton hit form scoring 4 times when winning on the same afternoon. So this means City may come up short and drop points!! No chance, City were not at their best but were always going to score the winner on Sunday and at times they played with 1 at the back, they were that dominant. How often do you see Mourinho allow for 1 defender to play at the back? They certainly did not when they played Huddersfield a few weeks ago. As for Southampton, they played Everton who are simply farcical at the moment so ignore that result. This will be a home win and fairly comfortable, that is all that is needed to be said.
Arsenal are on a run of wins and into the top 4. Huddersfield put up a fairly good effort against City but I think that could be a bigger factor heading into this game. The performance on Sunday would have taken a lot out of them and David Wagner does not possess the luxury of a big squad so I can see them being on the end of a rout on Wednesday. United could well be heading to Arsenal at the worse time possible and will be hoping that Huddersfield can steal something to knock the confidence a little. I think this is called clutching at straws!!!
Chelsea are another who are on top form, even though they drew last time out. The result at Anfield is not an awful one and just about keeps at them in the hunt for top spot. With Eden Hazard in the form he is, there is no reason why they cannot put together a good run of results. A few weeks ago I thought Spurs would be the biggest threat to City, now I think it will be Chelsea. Antonio Conte has his side back playing good, attacking football and they look fairly solid at the back again. Swansea could be on the end of a hiding that will mount the pressure on Paul Clement. However, looking at how difficult it has been replacing Ronald Koeman at Everton and Tony Pulis at West Brom, the Swansea board may think sacking him is a worse option. Swansea simply do not score enough goals and I cannot see anything but a comfortable home win at Stamford Bridge.
Liverpool had a funny midweek last week, losing a 3 goal lead at Sevilla in the Champions League then followed that up by conceding a late equaliser at home to Chelsea on Saturday. Everyone bangs on about the defensive side of their game and it just keeps coming back to haunt them. Mark Hughes’ Stoke side are currently conceding too many, but are doing what some at the bottom are not capable of and that is scoring goals. They remain in a relegation battle but I see them having enough to get out of it, but this will be a tough test. Liverpool are superb going forward and I expect to see at least Sadio Mane recalled to the starting line up, if not Roberto Firmino too. Adam Lallana made a return off the bench on Saturday and it will be interesting to see how Jurgen Klopp finds a place for him in his side. To be honest he probably wouldn’t do a worse job playing at centre half.
It is an interesting set of fixtures but for United, it is the start of a pivotal run of games that will no doubt determine the rest of their season. Win the next 3 and they will be firmly in contention for the title, but it is a real possibility that they could lose all 3. Hold onto your hats United fans, anything could happen in the next 2 weeks.