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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 23 October, 2018

Man United are 'going to hell' this weekend

Plus, were Pep Guardiola’s provocative comments unfair on Tottenham and more Premier League talking points.

1. Man United are ‘going to hell’ this weekend

Liverpool v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League - Round of Sixteen - First Leg - Anfield Source: EMPICS Sport

Despite Jose Mourinho’s insistence that this weekend’s game between Man United and Liverpool is “just a match,” fixtures involving the two sides have traditionally been significantly different from other less heated Premier League occasions.

Gary Neville gave an insight into what makes the games special earlier in the week, describing how legendary boss Alex Ferguson’s behaviour would change in the run up to these invariably vital clashes.

“He could be quite relaxed, particularly towards the end, around what I would call ‘normal’ games, but towards the Liverpool and City games he was always more intense,” the Sky Sports pundit said.

He was different going into the big games and to be honest with you, the most consistently angry that I saw him.

“People talk about the hairdryer and it never happened that much to be honest with you during a season, but the most consistent place you would see it was Anfield – at half-time or the end of the game

He’d sit there unmoved in the dressing room at the end of the game while everyone was getting showered for 25 minutes. Just not moving.

“He could not stand losing at Anfield – and if we won there, it didn’t matter how we played – it was like the best thing in the world.”

Neville’s former teammate Mikael Silvestre also gave a portrait of a fixture that deviated from normal proceedings, likening Anfield to ‘hell’.

“You feel like you’re going to hell. You are not welcome and you can feel the hate for sure,” he told 888sport.

It’s a hostile environment and it’s a good occasion to see how you react in adversity. It’s the best place to win games.”

Moreover, there is plenty riding on this contest in particular.

Man United might go into the game as slight favourites, given how they are currently joint-top of the table and seven points ahead of Liverpool.

However, last season, Jurgen Klopp’s side were at their best against the bigger teams, who invariably gave them space in behind.

They showed how lethal they can be during a 4-0 win over Arsenal in August, though don’t expect Jose Mourinho’s side to be as cavalier in their approach as Arsene Wenger’s men were that day.

Even with the Reds’ key attacker Sadio Mane injured, it would be no surprise to see Man United sit back and invite Liverpool on for much of the game.

Mourinho, ever the pragmatist, would probably not be too dissatisfied with a draw in what is comfortably their biggest challenge of the Premier League season so far.

2. Sergio Aguero set for swift recovery

Manchester City v Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Champions League - Group F - Etihad Stadium Source: Martin Rickett

When Sergio Aguero was involved in a freak car accident in Amsterdam just over two weeks ago, initial estimates suggested he would be out for two months.

There was a worry that a sustained period of time without their most experienced and arguably best striker could severely hamper their title challenge.

Nevertheless, Aguero seems to have made a remarkably swift recovery after suffering a broken rib as a result of the incident.

“He did his first training session after what happened and he did it quite well,” Pep Guardiola told reporters this week.

“Hopefully as soon as possible he will be back. Maybe [Aguero will play against Stoke], we are going to see the last training session.

“He is not 100 per cent but he is quite well. He explained to us what happened and the most important thing is it was not as bad as it could have been.”

Meanwhile, there has been no estimate on the return of club captain Vincent Kompany, while summer signing Benjamin Mendy will be unavailable for the foreseeable future, following cruciate knee ligament surgery.

Nonetheless, as the former Monaco star said on Twitter earlier: ”Don’t worry, Delph got this coach,” alluding to the stand-in midfielder’s impressive display at left wing-back in his team’s recent convincing 1-0 win over Chelsea.

3. Can Chelsea cope without Kante?

Chelsea v Qarabag - UEFA Champions League - Group C - Stamford Bridge Source: EMPICS Sport

Reigning Premier League champions Chelsea, who face Crystal Palace this weekend, have not enjoyed the best of starts to the season.

Two losses and a draw in their opening seven games have left them trailing both Manchester clubs by six points.

To make matters worse, influential midfielder N’Golo Kante has picked up an injury on international duty, meaning he will likely be out of action for at least four weeks.

Arguably with the exception of Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata, there is surely no player more important to the London side than the dogged Frenchman, who gained the distinction of winning back-to-back Premier Leagues with different clubs in the past two seasons.

Antonio Conte was under no illusions as to how big a blow the former Leicester star’s absence is, particularly with Danny Drinkwater injured and the Italian coach reluctant to move key centre-back David Luiz into midfield.

This is a big loss for us, we know very well the importance of Kante in our team and we don’t have another player with the same characteristics,” Conte told reporters this week.

“We only have Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas [in midfield] and we have to approach seven games in one month.

“We have to find different solutions and adapt some defenders into midfield or give young players opportunities, like [Ethan] Ampadu or [Kyle] Scott.”

4. Was Pochettino right to feel aggrieved at Guardiola comments?

Tottenham Hotspur v Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Champions League - Group H - Wembley Source: Adam Davy

In what seemed an innocuous comment, Pep Guardiola recently referred to Tottenham as the ‘Harry Kane’ team.

Though the Man City manager has spoken of his admiration of Spurs’ style of play in the past, Pochettino — perhaps seeking to soothe certain players’ egos — has expressed his annoyance at the remarks.

It is, of course, clear that there is far more to Tottenham than Harry Kane, despite the striker scoring 15 goals in his last 10 games for club and country.

To suggest otherwise, particularly when you consider that Tottenham have probably had the league’s best defence for the past two years, is simply misguided.

Yet it is unlikely Guardiola was completely serious or intended to cause offence with his comments, as he has not previously been renowned for managerial mind games á la Jose Mourinho or Alex Ferguson.

Instead, it was likely a throwaway comment he thought no one would pay much attention to, though the Spurs boss has felt it necessary to defend his stars.

The modern Premier League player in particular tends to be an insecure creature, so perhaps Pochettino is wise to reassure each individual of their immense worth at every available opportunity, even amid very minor incidents such as this one.

5. Big weekend for Ronald Koeman

Ronald Koeman File Photo Source: Richard Sellers

Everton spent a sum total of £135.8 million this summer.

Only three Premier League clubs — Man United (£145m), Chelsea (£192m) and Man City (£215) — spent more in the latest transfer window.

Granted, a considerable portion of these funds was offset by the sale of star striker Romelu Lukaku to Man United for an initial £75 million, potentially rising to £90 million.

Nonetheless, the Toffees have still invested heavily, so there was a certain degree of expectation on Koeman and co to deliver and perhaps even push for a top-four spot, having been consistently just off that position in recent times.

Unfortunately for the Goodison Park outfit though, the opposite has happened so far, and they currently find themselves just two points off the relegation zone.

They have not been helped by a difficult set of opening fixtures — the Merseyside club have already faced Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and both Manchester clubs.

That said, Everton were also beaten at home 1-0 by Burnley in their most recent fixture, and a similarly inept performance away to Brighton this Sunday could leave Koeman fearing for his future, even at this early stage of the season.

Premier League (all games kick-off at 3pm unless stated otherwise)


Liverpool v Man United (12.30pm)

Burnley v West Ham

Crystal Palace v Chelsea

Man City v Stoke

Swansea v Huddersfield

Tottenham v Bournemouth

Watford v Arsenal (5.30pm)


Brighton v Everton (1.30pm)

Southampton v Newcastle (4pm)


Leicester v West Brom (8pm)

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Paul Fennessy

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