This past weekend saw no less than three local derbies in the Premier League, with two of them winding up as draws. Of the six clubs involved in these three games only Chelsea triumphed, toppling Scott Parker’s Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage. It was a spirited performance from the hosts, who sacked manager Claudio Ranieri last week after only 19 games in charge. Spurs hosted Arsenal while Liverpool made the short trip to Everton, with both of these games ending in stalemate. Arguably the finest action to be seen was at Old Trafford, where resurgent Man Utd battled to a 3-2 home win against Southampton, who on this performance alone really should not find themselves in the trouble they are in. Adopting a 4-3-3 this time, let’s see which players stood out!
This weekend’s Premier League fixture list promises another round of tension, goals, celebration and despair. Proceedings get underway Saturday lunchtime with the north London derby, Spurs welcoming Arsenal as their guests at Wembley. We also have a relegation clash as Brighton host bottom side Huddersfield, while on Sunday we have a west London derby – Fulham vs Chelsea – and the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. Manchester City look to continue their bid to retain the Premier League crown when they travel to Bournemouth 24 hours before Liverpool’s trip across Stanley Park, and with both of those fixtures proving potentially slippery for the top two this weekend could well start to shape the landscape as the domestic season rolls on.
Manchester United are rapidly becoming favourites to finish fourth in the Premier League, a remarkable statement to make considering the club were 11 points off the pace when they dismissed Jose Mourinho back in December. A run of eight wins in all competitions (and over the hectic Christmas period no less) has put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side to within three points of fourth. Don’t forget to share your tips on the UK’s biggest football tipping contest by clicking here.
Dave and Jamie discuss Jose Mourinho, and consider whether the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is what Man Utd need right now. They also look at Inter Milan getting back to winning ways, Juventus’ cruising and SPAL’s potential worries.
It was the best performance of Unai Emery’s time as Arsenal manager so far. Indeed, the Gunners’ display in the North London derby against Spurs on Sunday was everything the club’s fans wanted to see from their team in the post-Arsene Wenger era. It was fast and furious. There was a game plan. And most importantly, there was a victory.
One wonders what those Manchester United supporters who just so happened to catch the game thought of what they saw. 24 hours earlier, their team had struggled to a 2-2 draw against Southampton- the bottom team in the Premier League. It was in stark contrast to what Arsenal served up.
Now, the two teams will face each other on Wednesday night. For both teams, this could be a season-defining clash. Man United are in desperate need of a win to give their chances of finishing in the top four a shot in the arm, while Arsenal also need a victory to shore up the progress they have made in recent weeks.
In terms of a sporting identity, there are plenty of parallels between Arsenal and Manchester United. They were fierce of rivals for years, when Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson locked horns for major honours, but in retrospect, there was more to unite them than there was to divide them.
Both sets of fans expect their team to play attractive, dynamic and attacking football. They also expect their team to challenge for silverware having grown accustomed to success. In recent years, the parallels have become even clearer, with Arsenal and Man United left looking upwards at teams like Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and even Leicester City.
But while United have festered and allowed malaise to grow at the club, Arsenal have taken measures to overhaul themselves. The replacement of Wenger with Emery in the summer was the most public- most significant part of that overhaul- but changes have also taken place behind the scenes.
This has manifested itself in what we have seen on the pitch from Arsenal so far this season. They have a transfer strategy, a clear and coherent notion of what they want the club to be, and of what they want the club to represent. This led them to the hiring of Emery through a comprehensive recruitment process in line with this approach.
United, on the other hand, are utterly dependent on one man, Jose Mourinho. And that one man is charged with imposing an identity on the club. This is an infrastructure that rarely works in the modern game, and we are seeing that in the way United have struggled this season.
Arsenal can show Manchester and their fans what they are missing on Wednesday night. They can show the Old Trafford club what happens when there is a plan and when that plan is implemented properly.
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For big clubs in Europe, it’s a must to be dominant and ruthless in the Champions League and importantly to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition. Manchester United completed the second half of that requirement by beating Young Boys on Tuesday to guarantee at least second place in Group B. However, their campaign in Europe has been unconvincing yet fruitful due to individual brilliance and lucky moments.
If not for Marouane Fellaini’s late winner at Old Trafford, the Red Devils would have formed an embarrassing record of going through three Champions League home games without a goal, a statistic that would reflect back on the poor job that Jose Mourinho is currently doing. However, he was once again saved by a player that has come up with a number of crucial goals in recent years.
On the other hand, if Young Boys had one clinical and dangerous striker that was in full confidence, they would have certainly punished a United defence that was playing a very high line whilst they were in possession of the ball. Not only that, but the home side’s full-backs fortunately escaped early bookings in the match which could have led to worse situations as the match went on.
Looking at United’s Champions League campaign so far this season with one group match remaining, there simply has not been enough evidence or memorable performances/results that makes a person feel or think the side can progress far in the competition. Many will simply believe that the victory over Young Boys to secure qualification will paper over all the cracks.
With no disrespect to the Swiss side, but a manager and a club that has spent just over £400 million in the transfer window over the last couple of years, and are relying on a last-minute winner at home really sums up the rather disappointing direction which the club is heading. From the lack of business planning off the pitch to the abysmal and boring football on it, a number of changes are required in order for Manchester United Football Club to be regarded as a serious football team once again.
As the side’s odds of winning the Premier League have been written off in the early stages of the season, it would not be a surprise to see the board and Ed Woodward hold on to Mourinho as the club’s manager until their chances of featuring in next year’s Champions League goes away. The hierarchy will have to make a crucial footballing decision in the coming months if things don’t go down as planned, in order to make sure they don’t fall behind from the other big European clubs.
Overall, given the club’s inconsistent and poor form in the league, Mourinho’s United will have to give their all in the Champions League this season in order to take part in the competition next campaign. With the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and Manchester City being regarded as the favourites to lift the trophy, the Red Devils, realistically, have no chance of winning it.
By all accounts Manchester United were going to leave Italy with a loss which would have put their Champions League qualification hopes on ice. There was just two minutes left in Turin against the mighty Juventus, unbeaten this season and 1-0 up through a Cristiano Ronaldo goal. And then it happened, shades of that infamous 1999 Champions League final.
First it was Juan Mata’s superb freekick that levelled the match up. That was enough on the 88th minute to say let’s go back with a point and no defeat. But United were not done yet and in injury time got the winner through a Leonardo Bonucci own goal. The Juventus fans went silent and at the final whistle Jose Mourinho could not help but to cup his ears and try to silence the fans after the boos he had endured during the match.
But what a turnaround for United and for Mourinho who has been under tremendous pressure since the beginning of the season. Surely that will be eased with victory in the own back yard of one of the tournament favourites. It was a massive win.
One must question if it was United’s best win since Sir Alex Ferguson retired from the club in 2013? Yes we can look at the Europa League final win against Ajax in 2017, but this match felt different. United were playing a superb team away from home they were not expected to win here given that they had just lost at home to Juventus in the reverse match a couple of weeks ago. This was supposed to be a formality, and let’s not forget Juventus hit the woodwork two times, so it really could have been.
But United hung in there and created chances of their own, this seemed like watching a team that had turned a corner, that had learned how to fight and Mourinho may well privately be thinking that this was his greatest win as a United manager, he should be.
United look certain to qualify from their group now and a win over Young Boys would confirm that if Juventus who now have to beat Valencia. Just how far have Mourinho’s team come? Well we won’t have to wait long as this weekend they will take on Manchester City in what should be another classic game of cat and mouse. The last time the teams played United came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in a stunning comeback. One has already been achieved this week, could another?
They call football “the beautiful game” for a reason. A single sport capable of uniting (and, of course, dividing) such a large section of the general population will always be at the forefront of many a culture, but as time moves forward so too does the sport. Seemingly gone are the days when managers would get a job at a football club and be given considerable time to put their stamp on the role, and it could be argued it is a similar situation for players. If an instant impact is not made, they find their future at the club is often brought into question. Even ownership is, at times, prone to a similar fate. So often these days clubs are bought and sold at the flick of a switch, but that is not the case at many of Europe’s biggest clubs – such as Serie A champions Juventus.
Ever since Giampaolo Pozzo entered the world of football when he purchased Serie A club Udinese back in 1986, he and his family have built their own empire by way of guiding their clubs to new heights. After a rocky start in Udine which saw the club relegated to Serie B following a betting scandal, Pozzo went right back to basics and built a club which is this year celebrating its 24th consecutive year as a Serie A side. This sound guidance has seen him having previously been voted the best president in Serie A a decade ago, before a year later branching out into La Liga with the purchase of Granada FC. He spent seven years as owner there before ultimately selling in 2016 to Chinese businessman, Jiang Lizhang. In June 2012, however, another project of his was born.