Football expert Chris Bland casts his eye to Sunday’s biggest games and, with two high profile Premier League clashes in addition to action in Italy, it promises to be a thrilling day. Many will be enthused at the prospect of Jose Mourinho taking on one of his most trusted former players in Frank Lampard. Which way will it go? If you agree with his tips then why not use them in our football pools?
Watford vs. Manchester United
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s side travel to Vicarage Road on Sunday as they look to impart more misery on Nigel Pearson’s men come 4pm. Stuck at the bottom of the league, Pearson will be hoping to see continued improvements, particularly in front of goal, from Watford as they look to close the gap to the teams above them.
Watford opted for a direct approach against Liverpool, whilst trying to utilise the likes of Gerard Deulofeu and Ismaila Sarr on the counter attack. It would be no surprise to see them look to do the same once again against Solksjaer side on Sunday. However, Manchester United did actually deal with the threat of Everton’s direct play well last weekend, with Harry Maguire winning all his aerial duals and defensive partner Victor Lindelof not far behind.
Restricting Duncan Ferguson’s side to an xG of 0.28, an unfortunate own goal from Lindelof gave the Toffees their opener, and United did manage to show a higher level of creativity in the game than in the past where they’ve struggled against the low block of an opposition’s defence, mustering up 1.48. Mason Greenwood shone off the bench, as United’s attacking options are showing more depth following Jesse Lingard’s improvements in form, and it does feel like a less one-dimensional, counter attacking approach from Solksjaer side. The balance of the midfield has been helped by Fred’s performances, as well as the return of Scott McTominay from injury.
However, there were also promising signs from Watford in defeat at Liverpool, as they restricted the Reds defensively for long periods with an organised defence, whilst also creating chances on the break. It was indicative of their season in front of goal for the Hornets, as Watford were guilty of missing plenty of chances once again, and their worries in front of goal are highlighted by their xG so far this season. Under-performing by 10.47 in front of goal, they’d actually lie 13th on expected points, so if it can click in front of goal for Pearson’s men, an upturn in form could come.
Whether that upturn in form will come this weekend is a tough ask, particularly against a United side astute at defending the long ball, and well equipped against the counter attack. The Red Devils are improving at breaking down the compact defences, and although Pearson will look to have his side right up for his first home game in charge, it looks to be tough an ask to see the instant fix up front he needs to see.
Verdict: Manchester United
Tottenham vs. Chelsea
Jose Mourinho welcomes his former club to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in Super Sunday’s second offering, and in another tough game to call, it should see an exciting game on offer. Sat just three points behind their cross-city rivals, it is the perfect opportunity for Tottenham to continue their up turn in form under Mourinho, and pile the pressure on Chelsea after such a promising start to the campaign under Frank Lampard.
Tottenha, have had a tendency to sit back and counter in games under Mourinho since he took charge, and it would be no surprise to see them follow suit against a Chelsea side with a handful of defensive vulnerabilities. The Chelsea defence are often left exposed by their wingers, making crossing an excellent avenue of attack, and they have been opened up down this avenue on countless occasions in the past few games. Aurier’s crossing ability, coupled with Kane and Alli’s threat in the middle, make this for an excellent angle of attack, and combined with Tottenham’s counter attacking threat, its hard to see them not finding the scoresheet.
However, Tottenham themselves are still leaking goals under Mourinho, and although Lampard’s side have seen the goals dry up in recent weeks, it hasn’t been for a lack of chance creation. An xG of 34.81 this season for the Blues is hard to ignore, and Tammy Abraham should be able to cause problems for the Tottenham backline. With a deep backline, a big role lies with the creative talents of Kovacic and Jorginho behind the forward, and they do possess the ability to unpick the defence. Full backs are still an issue for Tottenham and a lot of joy can be expected down these avenues, and the two leaky defences do make me favour a high scoring game.
In terms of picking a winner, the sides look well-matched, and chances should be a plenty. I’m happy to sit on the fence with this game, favouring a draw, especially between two so evenly matched teams.
Sassuolo vs. Napoli
Sunday’s final game takes us to Italy, as Gennaro Gatusso takes charge of his second game as manager of Napoli, looking to bounce back from a defeat against Parma in his first game in charge.
It was a typical Parma performance, as they conceded possession to Napoli (72.3%) before making Gatusso’s side pay for their wastefulness in front of goal, hitting them on the counter attack with Gervinho netting a late winner. Indicative of their season so far, Napoli racked up 33 shots and an xG of 1.88, but couldn’t make the chances pay against the Parma side.
Sassuolo themselves lie 11th in Serie A, and come into the game fresh from a midweek win over Bresica, where Jeremie Boga impressed once again. Goals from Hamed Traore and Francesco Caputo eased them to victory, and confidence will be high after four games unbeaten, including draws with AC Milan and Juventus.
Their xG in front of goal is particularly interesting, and are coming up against a defence that has only let in 21 goals all season, and if the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly at the back can up their performance, it will be a tough backline to break down. Over-performing their xG by 6.85, it is a tough ask to keep this up, and if Gattuso can solidify his defence, Napoli arguably will have enough to break down the Sassuolo back line.
Carlo Ancelotti’s downfall was not converting the draws into wins, particularly in tight games, and although the side are low on confidence, they do possess the attacking talent to see stark improvements. Lorenzo Insigne has been misfiring this season, only managing three goals, but a switch to 4-3-3 under Gattuso may bring out the best in the winger, especially with the creative talents of Allan and Fabian Ruiz given more defensive support in central areas.
Sassuolo will try and sit in for long periods and hit Napoli on the break, utilising Boga and Berardi’s pace and dribbling abilities, however if Napoli can continue to create the chances, much like they did last weekend, it should click up front with the available attacking talent.