Two under pressure managers have winnable games this weekend but both face considerable challenges. Erik Ten Hag takes his struggling Manchester United to bottom club Burnley knowing it will not be an easy match.
Ten Hag’s midfield is his main problem closely followed by United’s forwards. Brighton outplayed United’s midfield last weekend and in midweek Bayern Munich did the same thing in the Champions League. Last Monday Ten Hag assembled his players in the briefing area of the Carrington training centre. Ten Hag looked at Fernandes and pointed to Brighton’s Joao Pedro running forward from the centre circle closely followed by United’s captain. Fernandes suddenly stops and simply watches as Pedro runs on into the penalty area and scores. Where asked Ten Hag is the concentration and focus? Ten Hag believes his problems start in midfield. He went back to his marker board and focused on Christian Eriksen who was playing in the United diamond formation which left Brighton’s full backs unopposed. The formation did not suit Eriksen and he was not able to make his incisive passes through to Hojlund and Rashford or cut out threatening passes from the opposition. Brighton’s Joel Velman took advantage and he fired a ball into Danny Welbeck from the wing which ended up in the net. Casemiro, Dalot and McTominay were guilty of not putting 100% into their play and they looked tired and frustrated. Brighton’s £17million squad cut through the middle of the £347million United midfield. Ten Hag claims there is no crisis at United. The fans disagree. Even my colleague and ex-United player Gary Neville has said the problem with United is that the players are just not good enough to challenge for a top four place. Ten Hag believes it is more a problem with focus and commitment. He is hoping that Sofyan Amrabat is recovering quickly because his energy and physical presence will strengthen the defensive midfield. McTominay or Lindelhof will make way when he returns but Ten Hag will have to change his formation. Casimero needs to find the form that made him one of the world’s finest midfielders and he was easily beaten in the midweek Champions League loss to Bayern Munich. Ten Hag wants to use Casemiro, Amrabat, Eriksen, Mount and Fernandes as his preferred midfield set up. United can be strong on the ball but in that briefing room Ten Hag concentrated on United playing with more commitment when they do not have the ball…chasing, tackling stronger and closer marking.
Chelsea need goals vs Aston Villa
Chelsea might be labelled as Billionaire’s Row but the evidence shown so far is that this selection of players are poor on quality. Mauricio Pochettino is a better manager than his current squad are showing but time is running out and fans are very impatient. Pochettino was without 12 of his first team at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium and Broja has not been available since the World Cup. Next week winger and attacking midfielder Benoit Badiashile will be ready to play after recovering from a hamstring injury. Chelsea are hoping that Moises Caicedo (knee injury) and Noni Madueki (muscle issue) will be back to line up against Aston Villa this weekend. Amando Broja is playing for the Blues’ under 21 team in order to regain more fitness. Chelsea’s main worry is that after spending the equivalent of a small country’s annual food budget they still do not have a striker capable of scoring every week. Pochettino’s main problem is that waiting for his injured players to return will not satisfy the Chelsea owners. They demand results for their huge investment and his honeymoon period is over. Chelsea owners do not practice patience. I think we will all be opening our Christmas presents before Mykhailo Mudryk scores his first goal for the Blues. Nicolas Jackson is strong and aggressive but is lacking that final touch in front of goal. Chelsea have scored only five times so far which is their worst since 1996. Lesley Ugochukwa was the 37th different player to come on for Chelsea this season which demonstrates that so far Pochettino has not put together a workable strategy or organised a settled team to get results. He blames injuries and of course Reece James is still on the sidelines. I am told Moises Caicedo could be available but Romeo Lavia twisted an ankle in training and the medical team say he could be out for a month.
Arsenal vs Tottenham
When the Premier League fixtures are announced before each season both Arsenal and Tottenham fans always check first to see when their local derby is taking place. This year it comes early and on Sunday Mikel Arteta’s high flying Arsenal take on Ange Postecoglou’s equally high flying Tottenham. The Tottenham coach has turned his team into an attacking force compared with the old Spurs who were more defensive minded under Antonio Conte however this weekend he is looking to play more defensively given the quality of Arsenal. He has several decisions to make before Sunday. Pedro Porro has started every Premier League game, except the opening game, under the new coach and it is between him as an attacking force and Emerson Royal who is more defensive. Porro could be handed another start because there are doubts this week surrounding Gabriel Martinelli who had to leave the Everton game with an injury. Who starts between Son and Richarlison is interesting because the Korean scored a hat-trick against Burnley but was replaced by Richarlison after failing to break down the Sheffield defence. Richarlison replaced him and scored and made the assist which won the game. Postecoglou has riches upfront and he also must choose between Manor Solomon and Kulusevski on the right. If Richarlison is picked I am hearing the starting line-up will include Son on the left and Kulusevski on the right but Brennan Johnson will play a part because of his superb strike at Sheffield which was unfortunately ruled offside but he showed just what he can do in the right circumstances. Mikel Arteta’s first name on the teamsheet these days is Saka and he will definitely play out on the right wing. Odegaard is always dangerous as he prowls around the centre going forward and Arteta has trained this group to be strong on counter attacking football. Tottenham’s Maddison and Bissouma will battle with Declan Rice and Odegaard and all four will try and control the attacking midfield roles which is where both coaches believe the match will be won or lost and each is confident of victory.
*It was confirmed midweek that Tottenham’s Ivan Perisic will miss the rest of the season because of a serious knee injury which I am told will need surgery.
More injury problems for Man City
Bernado Silva had to leave the field after being injured during the Champions League win over Crvena Zvezda in midweek. Pep Guardiola said back in Manchester on Wednesday that Silva will not play against Nottingham Forest at home this weekend and joins Kevin De Bruyne (out long term), Mateo Kovacic, John Stones and Jack Grealish on the injured list. Only Kovacic has a chance of playing this weekend. Pep added, “It happens, John is still a bit longer out, maybe Kova comes back and Jack maybe in one week or ten days.”
Hodgson returns but Olise out at Palace
Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson will be back in the dugout for the game against Fulham on Saturday. Hodgson has recovered from being taken ill last Saturday but regrettably he does not return to good news regarding crucial winger and attacking midfielder Michael Olise after a recurrence of his hamstring problem. Palace told me he is likely to be out until mid-October’s international break. The 21-year-old recently signed a four year new contract.