SOCCER

Premier League Preview: Massive Weekend For Clubs Of Manchester

Dec 11, 2020, 3:50 PM
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09: Pep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City looks on during the UE...
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09: Pep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City looks on during the UEFA Champions League Group C stage match between Manchester City and Olympique de Marseille at Etihad Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Manchester, England. The match will be played without fans, behind closed doors as a Covid-19 precaution. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – This week is huge for the clubs of Manchester. One of them crashed out of the Champions League and the other hasn’t overly set the league alight after a disappointing campaign last season.

And with that, we dive straight in.

Manchester United v. Manchester City

This is your KSL 5 premiere match of the weekend, and it’s not even close. The Saturday kick off is at 10:30 a.m. and I couldn’t be more invested. Sixth against seventh, with the winner having a great opportunity to break into the top four.

United are the most inconsistent team in the top six right now. Some of the devastating attacks we saw against Southampton and West Ham were truly fantastic, but some of the goals they gave up were equally poor in measure. United look lost when Bruno Fernandes is without the ball or on the bench, and with a busy period coming up, we’ll likely see players’ minutes managed and thus a possibility of the inconsistent performances continuing.

There are many places to point fingers to explain why it’s going wrong for United. Is the recruitment wrong? Are the players underperforming and is the manager the right man for the job? In truth – it’s a little bit of all three but a little bit of all three make it very difficult for them to reach the heights of the Sir Alex Ferguson years. Which is a massive weight to burden (look at Liverpool).

It’s not all doom and gloom, there are sparks of life and in a derby? They will not be a pushover by any stretch. As Bruno Fernandes drives this team forward, the demands he asks of his teammates are very clear, and he’s not overly nice about it when they fall short of his lofty expectations. I wouldn’t say he’s of the Roy Keane mould, but he demands the respect of the entire team. Throw in the younger lads that have come through the academy, specifically Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood and the potential in the attack all of a sudden skyrockets.

The weakness is at the other end. At times the defense can look mean and organized, and then a seeming lapse in concentration undoes all the good work. The concentration issues along with the tendency to move between different formations, a constant chopping and changing between a back three and a back four, is not helping. The actual performance does belong to the players, but ultimately the responsibility lands at Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s feet.

City on the other hand are inconsistent for other reasons. They look significantly more balanced and better defensively, but opposing teams approach them differently. As a result, City has been undone by counter attacks after long periods of possession.

Beware! Write them off at your peril. When it finally clicks (and it will), I fully expect them to be fighting for the title. Pep spent well in the summer, and it looks like City has finally addressed some defensive issues. Pep Guardiola’s recent contract extension will help the team mentally, knowing their leader is staying for the foreseeable future.

It’s hard to be too picky about City, yes they’ve not reached the lofty heights they attained a couple of seasons ago, but Liverpool had a plan and caught up. Spurs look to be following a master plan for this season, which also includes having an eye on Chelsea but when you move the current title challengers aside, and look at who you really want to have victory over, Man City jumps out of the pack.

Their tag of big spenders was not, and is still not, wrong; but City’s spend for success model has set the soccer world alight and threw down a marker for the rest of Europe, just as Pep’s Barcelona did. One of these successful high-spend model players is Kevin De Bruyne who once again dominates the attacking central areas, and is the one player you can’t take your eyes off, as a fan, or his marker! With two goals and six assists, he is the one man Ole will look to smother with his two holding midfielders.

Whilst it might not be a classic I think there will be chances galore. United’s manager is really under pressure. He has been in this position before and will likely set up the formation to be difficult to break down; and Solskjaer won’t mind giving up possession in the process. I think City will be ready to take advantage of any possession opportunities. I will be ready for it.

Prediction: Pick a winner you say? It’s a tough one for me. City are potentially phenomenal but Ole is as stubborn as his mentor, Sir Alex Ferguson and when his back is up against the wall he’s managed to pull out a result when needed most. The only way I can pick the winner here is down to form at Old Trafford, and United, without the Red Army backing them, just haven’t been able to find consistent results. It’ll be a Blue Moon rising come full time.

Crystal Palace v. Tottenham Hotspur

Sunday gives you a 7:15 a.m. kick, on NBCSN. League leaders Spurs come into Selhurst Park in fine form. Spurs aren’t massively interested in possession. What they are is a sit deep type of team that gets turnovers in good areas of the pitch so they can launch devastating attacks.

This is now 100 percent a Jose Mourinho team now. Effective and physical, with a little bit of flair to thunderous use. Mourinho is at his wonderful best when he seems to deflect his team’s chances of title challenges. Using the press as his podium to make it about Spurs against the world and piling pressure on the likes of City and Liverpool. Don’t be fooled by his stoicism, this Spurs team is better equipped and more savvy than any of the Mauricio Pochettino versions we saw over recent seasons. In his relative short time in charge at Spurs, Mourinho has changed Harry Kane, and all for the better. The England hitman currently has eight goals, and a tremendous 10 assists. His main partner in Son Heung-Min has 10 goals and three assists. They are the hottest duo in the league, maybe even Europe right now.

They come up against a Palace team that is similar in approach.

Roy Hodgson is well known for setting his teams up to be difficult to break down, and then being direct. Using the physicality of Christian Benteke or the explosiveness of Wilf Zaha to exploit any weaknesses. Sitting in a healthy eleventh position, and a tweak in position for Zaha has seen him pinch in off the wing, closer to the goal. The seven goals and two assists is proof in the pudding, and the reality is that he should dwarf last season’s stats.

What we will see is a match in the midfield, Palace are well known to be tough competitors and will put their foot and head in where it hurts. Going toe to toe they’ll look to disrupt and make it a crappy affair. When the break arrives, the likes of Zaha, Eberechi Eze, Jeffrey Schlupp and Andros Townsend to whoever starts is the little bit of magic to open up defences. This formula can even work against the superb Spurs’ who has conceded just nine goals through the first 11 matches.

The fact is, Palace would take a point before kick off, so it’ll be put squarely on Spurs to break them down. It will mean that Mourinho will look to the likes of Tanguy Ndombele or Giovani Lo Celso to provide that little bit of creativity to open up the Eagles. I feel if Spurs get one goal that they’ll be too much for Palace to handle, but any struggles or a lack of ideas and you’ll see Palace use the ball, and swiftly move the ball to the flanks to pressurize the table toppers.

Prediction: It’s tough to go against Spurs, they just seem to be growing in confidence and there is an obvious belief around the club. Tottenham wins the battle of North versus South London.

Look out for a midweek article, as the EPL enters the festive period with an abundance of fixtures before the New Year.

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