Football writer Chris Bland is back to tackle this weekend’s Premier League action as Manchester United look to continue their solid form, whilst Manchester City can take advantage of a poor Arsenal defence.
Manchester United v Everton
Manchester United look to build on an impressive week as they made it three wins on the bounce with victories over Manchester City and AZ Alkmaar.
Duncan Ferguson remains in interim charge of Everton after a 3-1 win over Chelsea last weekend, and the fired-up Toffees will be keen for a repeat performance on Sunday afternoon. Racking up an impressive 60 tackles in the game, it showed a change in style as Everton worked much harder off the ball, pressing Chelsea and making life as tough as they could for Frank Lampard’s side, and much more of the same is expected on Sunday.
Manchester United were victorious at the Etihad last time out, as they were able to utilise their excellent ability to counter attack and targeted City’s suspect flanks, as Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Dan James ran riot. A different approach is going to be required against Everton, who will be more than happy to sit in and frustrate the Red Devils, however there are enough areas of promise to suggest United should be able to break down this Everton side.
Chelsea were still able to create chances against Everton, particularly down the flanks, and with Lucas Digne an injury doubt, the returning Leighton Baines is potentially a cause for concern. James will relish the opportunity up against the English full back, whilst on the opposing wing, Theo Walcott’s defensive contribution can be at times called in question, and Luke Shaw will be happy to provide the overlap and exploit this position.
Everton will look to play direct, and whilst Harry Maguire is equipped to deal with this, they may look to target Victor Lindelof in the air. The spaces left behind by the full backs can be exploited by Everton’s wingers, and it does mean that Everton will have an outlet going forward that can trouble United. However, the middle of midfield remains a concern, and Scott McTominay and Fred are forming a strong parternship, whilst Gylfi Sigurdsson still poses a call for concern as a defensive minded midfielder for Everton.
United’s upturn in form has been coming, and has been aided by the return of a number of absentees. Although Everton did impress against Chelsea, there are still a handful of areas you feel like Solksjaer’s side can exploit, so I will be going with United to continue their run.
Verdict: Manchester United
Wolves v Tottenham
Jose Mourinho’s Spurs side travel to the Midlands looking to continue their red hot domestic form, and after a comprehensive victory over Burnley last weekend, it promises to be an entertaining encounter.
Both sides had contrasting fortunes in Europe in otherwise dead rubbers, as Tottenham travelled to Munich with a much changed eleven, where they were defeated 3-1. Not too much can be taken from the game, however the impressive Ryan Sessegnon will excite Spurs fans, and certainly adds another dimension to the Tottenham attack. Wolves will be pleased to see a return to goalscoring form in recent weeks from Diogo Jota, and his hat trick in midweek highlights the problems he could cause the Spurs backline on Sunday.
Up against Serge Aurier, and with Adama Traore up against Jan Vertonghen on the opposite flank, these are both areas where Wolves can target Tottenham. With often a lack of defensive support from the wingers in front, coupled with the overlapping wing backs from Wolves, this should bring Santo’s side joy, and open up a strong avenue to bring Raul Jimenez into the game, who was rested in midweek.
Tottenham’s xG is a particularly interesting area, as they are over-performing by 8.01, a massive up turn since Jose Mourinho has come in, showing their clinical edge. Superb goals from Harry Kane and Heung Min-Son helped them on their way to the 5-0 win last weekend, and they can’t be reliant on these goals every week.
From a tactical perspective, both sides will be more than happy to sit deep and look to utilise the counter, and this could leave a lot of space in central midfield for both sides. As a result, it would be no surprise to see a tight, tactical affair, and wit two defences both improving, a low scoring affair could follow. Wolves’ xGa of 18.40 and a goals against tally of 19 shows that Tottenham will have their work cut out trying to break down the side, and with a tight game expected, the draw stands out.
Arsenal v Manchester City
Although Arsenal finally ended a barren run last weekend with a win over strugglers West Ham, there were still a number of concerning signs for Freddie Lujungberg, as his side looked particularly lacklustre in the first hour at the London Stadium. They didn’t fare much better when struggling to a 2-2 draw against Standard Liege in Belgium on Thursday, and if they don’t up their game, it could be a long afternoon against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City
Although City fell to defeat to United last time out, as a number of tactical defensive worries came to the fore once again on the counter attack, they will be confident of bouncing back and breaking down a less than convincing Arsenal side, who have seen the injuries rack up. Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney were added to the lengthy injury list, whilst Granit Xhaka will also miss out in midfield.
Arsenal look particularly short in midfield, and considering they will have to find a way of stopping Kevin De Bruyne, the signs are ominous for the Gunners. If Mesut Ozil is to start in the middle, they will easily become overrun, and whilst Joe Willock is an alternative option, he has struggled to grasp his opportunity, and struggled in the defeat against Brighton, being hauled off at half time.
The underlying statistics behind City’s attack and Arsenal’s defence don’t call for much optimism behind the Gunners, with City racking up an xG of 45.89 this season and Arsenal an xGa 23.91. Add in the fact that Arsenal are letting the opposition have on average 16.5 shots per game against them, it becomes very tough to see them holding out for a clean sheet.
Arsenal do have one avenue of hope on the counter attack, an angle they impressed on eventually against West Ham through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicholas Pepe and Gabriel Martinelli, and as United showed, City do leave themselves open to this. However, the lack of defensive contribution, particularly from Pepe, is a cause for concern, and as a result the defensive weakness looks like it will outweigh the attacking threat, and makes it incredibly hard to see past City
Verdict: Manchester City
Crystal Palace v Brighton
A South-Coast derby takes centre stage on Monday night as Brighton travel to Crystal Palace hoping to keep up their return to form, which has seen a win over Arsenal and a credible draw with Wolves lift them up to 12th, just behind the hosts in the table.
Crystal Palace also come into this game in decent form, despite an ongoing injury crisis at the back. A 0-0 draw with Watford last weekend represented a solid result, although they rode their luck against a wasteful Hornets side, and struggled to create many openings themselves.
Although some of the underlying statistics suggest otherwise, this game does have the feeling of goals, particularly with the open, attacking nature that the Seagulls are happy to play with. This came to the fore against Wolves and Arsenal, as they took the game to the opposition and dominated the ball, and it will be no surprise to see this being the case once again at Selhurst Park on Monday night.
However, silly individual mistakes have let Brighton down in recent weeks, and Palace’s ability to pounce and counter on these do make them an interesting prospect for the game. Despite a worryingly low xG of 14.51 and only 14 goals scored, the threat of Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend on the break does strike fear into such an open Brighton backline, and it would be no surprise to see Palace net on Monday. Brighton’s xGa of 28.08 further reinforces this, however their own attacking prowess in recent weeks means that they should be well suited to cause the Palace backline problems, particularly with the inform Neal Maupay. His, and strike partner Leandro Trossard’s movement up top, will cause a slow backline plenty of problems, and their willingness to drop deep could cause problems as to who is picking them up, especially with such a fluid midfield in behind for Brighton.
It is particularly hard to split the two sides as a result, and I am happy to sit on the fence for this game and go for the draw. Plus, the editor is a Palace fan, and I want it published!