·1 December 2023
·1 December 2023
It's a biggie for Eddie Howe, Erik ten Hag, Pep Guardiola, Ange Postecoglou and Vincent Kompany.
Game to watch – Manchester City v Tottenham We all know how committed Ange Postecoglou is to his style. And if he had a full-strength squad, we would be egging on the Tottenham boss to go toe-to-toe with the champions at the Etihad on Sunday. But he hasn’t. And curious as we are to see what Erling Haaland and co might do in the chasm behind Ben Davies and Emerson Royal, it could be brutal.
Spurs go to the Treble winners after three consecutive defeats burst their blissful bubble. His injury list offers Postecoglou plenty of mitigation but there comes a point when refusing to adapt becomes an act of self-sabotage. That may be this weekend.
Postecoglou will say that he could be more pragmatic, less balls-out, and Spurs could still receive a hiding at the hand of Pep Guardiola’s men. So he may see this as a free hit. He might be right.
Losing at home to Villa was accepted with good grace by Tottenham fans because of the manner of their performance in the face of continued adversity. Being beaten, or even battered, at City would hardly heap shame upon Spurs in the circumstances. But surely there has to be a compromise, mate?
Team to watch – Newcastle Newcastle are enduring their own injury crisis – isn’t everyone? – and they will have spent the back half of the week rueing their luck after being denied a famous victory over PSG. But Eddie Howe needs to rouse his troops, physically and mentally, for the visit of another side suffering similar angst on Saturday night.
The Magpies and Manchester United’s Champions League prospects are in peril after both drew on the continent in midweek. Newcastle were robbed by a ropey VAR decision, while Man Utd succumbed to their own ineptitude at Galatasaray. Both can still qualify in less than a fortnight; neither are likely to, the most realistic ambition for each being a ticket to the Europa League.
Obviously, Newcastle are the side we would back to bounce back most convincingly, especially at home with the Toon Army behind them on a freezing cold Saturday night. They are a far more cohesive unit than Man Utd, a much clearer image of their manager, and considerably more resilient.
But this is still a test for the Magpies. We have no idea which Man Utd will turn up. They have performed creditably on the road twice this week – once was good enough to beat Everton; the other couldn’t insulate them from their keeper’s brain farts – and, somehow, they sit above their hosts in the Premier League. Injury crisis or not, this is a perfect opportunity for Newcastle to make the table a more accurate reflection of the season so far.
Player to watch – Moises Caicedo Mauricio Pochettino was left ‘angry and disappointed’ by Chelsea last week when they capitulated at Newcastle. The Magpies ran through the Blues, especially in the second half, with 17-year-old Lewis Miley making a mockery of Pochettino’s midfield.
The thrashing highlighted how important Caicedo has become to Chelsea. Hardly surprising, given the Ecuadorian is Britain’s most-expensive footballer. Such status comes with inevitable prominence. But there is no doubt there is more to come from Caicedo.
The same can be said of Enzo Fernandez, the Premier League’s previous record signing. Fernandez spent his first half-season doing Caicedo’s job too but now the Argentina international has a deeper-lying destroyer to rely on, he needs to be upping his creativity.
Caicedo too is still adapting and both are young, as Pochettino will tell you and anyone who might listen. At Brighton, with whom the 22-year-old is reunited this weekend, the midfielder played as one of two defensive pivots. For Pochettino, his is a more defensive role, behind two no.8s.
Chelsea have had a week to stew on their Magpies mauling and a response is demanded on Sunday. Caicedo’s influence will be decisive against his old club.
Manager to watch – Vincent Kompany Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom is borrowing more time than any other Premier League manager, according to the bookies. But his counterpart ahead of Saturday’s relegation six-pointer at Turf Moor is under similar pressure.
Most expected the Blades to struggle this season. Too many, including us, thought Vincent Kompany’s Burnley would be just fine. Silly us. We didn’t account for the wholesale changes forced upon the Clarets by the expiry of the loans that propelled them to the top flight. Now they are here, Burnley are stinking out the place.
Kompany’s side have beaten only Luton and remain the only team below an Everton team stripped of 10 of their points. They looked good for a first home win last weekend only for the Clarets to cave in late on against a below-par West Ham.
The Premier League has harboured some absolute dross over the years but only one side – Sheffield United in 2020/21 – has started worse than this Burnley. There appears little appetite in Lancashire to ditch Kompany, but defeat at home to the Blades would sorely test the Clarets’ faith in their manager.
EFL game to watch – West Brom v Leicester Further proof, if it were needed, of the Championship’s propensity for the batsh*t came in midweek when top-of-the-table Leicester went to rock-bottom, rank-bad Sheffield Wednesday and dropped points. Hardly a disaster, but the draw allows Ipswich to keep the Foxes in their sights and potentially leapfrog the leaders if Leicester fail again to take full points at The Hawthorns on Saturday lunchtime.
West Brom are dangerous opponents for Leicester. Carlos Corberan’s side inflicted upon Ipswich their first defeat in 12 last weekend and, on their own patch, the Baggies are formidable. No team in the Championship has gathered more points on home soil in the past year.
The Baggies turned over fellow play-off contenders Cardiff in midweek while Leicester were going through the motions at Hillsborough and their fine run extends beyond the last week. Over the last six games, they have earned more points than the leaders.
If Albion continue their form and momentum, Leicester could be unseated from the summit for the first time since mid-September.
European game to watch – Barcelona v Atletico Madrid No need for a subscription or hooky feed on Sunday night. Barca’s clash with Atletico is on ITV4 as both sides look to kickstart their title challenges.
Before either worry about leaders Real Madrid, they have to rein in Girona, with a four-point gap to Real’s nearest challengers making that impossible this weekend. But Barca could restore a more familiar look to the La Liga table the following week when they welcome their Catalan neighbours. Only if they deal with Diego Simeone first.
Elsewhere on the continent, Bayer Leverkusen face a stringent test of their Bundesliga title credentials when they welcome Borussia Dortmund on Sunday afternoon, while also on Sunday, Serie A champions Napoli host leaders Inter Milan.