The Manchester Derby
It was back to league football across Europe this weekend with some very interesting fixtures taking place; the Manchester derby being the stand-out one of all.
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are quite rightly seen as 2 of Europe’s “super coaches”. Their past achievements with Barcelona, Chelsea, Bayern, Inter Milan, Porto and Real Madrid respectively put both of them up there with the very best the game has ever seen. Their relationship (can it be called that?!) at Barcelona and Real Madrid was something that always caused headlines; with Guardiola once calling Jose “the f*****g man, the f*****g chief”.
A lot was written prior to the game and with over £200m spent between them over the summer, a major rebuilding job was started by both managers going in to the new season. The game saw a number of big-name signings start, with Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Stones, Mkhitaryan, Nolito and Claudio Bravo looking to show why they deserved a place in the starting 11.
In the end, it was Guardiola who emerged victorious from a game which had the lot. City win 2-1. In the first 45 minutes, Guardiola’s team showed exactly why they fought so hard to secure his signature for years. With Silva and De Bruyne (my man of the match) pulling the strings in a 3 man midfield, everything ran through them. Stones showed to everyone why City dropped £50m on him (Ibrahimovic goal aside), his composure on the ball and positioning in the most ferocious of atmospheres showing why Pep rates him so highly. Otamendi was a warrior and Sterling caused United’s fullbacks problems all game with his pace and direct running. At times during this game, City were absolutely brilliant. Fernandinho is proving why so many City fans rate him as their most important player and it *almost* didn’t matter that Aguero was suspended.
City found theirselves 2-0 up within 36 minutes and, in all honesty, it could’ve been many more. Ibrahimovic volleyed home after a mistake from Claudio Bravo, but could not find the equaliser. United were completely outplayed during some parts of this game; with Mkhitaryan looking worringly off the pace in the first 45 before being hauled off at half time. Pogba, the most expensive player of all time, hardly got a touch in midfield and Daley Blind looked like he was lost – his “challenge” on De Bruyne for the first goal is the worst piece of defending I have ever seen. Rashford yet again come off the bench and improved the team considerably and must now be a starter for United in their Europa League game away in Feyenoord on Thursday.
Bravo, who was signed to replace Joe Hart, looked very nervy at times. Brought in to play the sweeper keeper role which Pep likes to play with, his footwork put him in trouble 2 or 3 times and could have easily given away a penalty and maybe should have been sent off for a lunging, studs-showing tackle on Rooney in the Second half. Guardiola dismissed the claims that he made a mistake letting Hart go, claiming Bravo had “one of the best performances he had ever seen from a goalkeeper” and insisted he would stay as his number 1. Not sure about that one, Pep.
The league was not won or lost with the game on Saturday lunchtime, but the way City tiki-taka’d around United sent a clear message that they will be a real challenger in Pep’s first season at the club. For United, there is plenty of work to do. Jose will hope that this defeat will not affect the team’s confidence too much going in to the autumn.
Man United 40% Man City 60%
Man United 14 Man City 1 8
Shots on Target
Man United 3 Man City 6
Man United 4 Man City 4
Man United 15 Man City 10
Premier League results as of 12/9/16
Manchester United 1 – 2 Manchester City
Bournemouth 1 – 0 West Brom
Middlesbrough 1 – 2 Crystal Palace
Stoke City 0 – 4 Tottenham Hotspur
Burnley 1 – 1 Hull City
West Ham 2 – 4 Watford
Arsenal 2 – 1 Southampton
Liverpool 4 – 1 Leicester
Swansea 2 – 2 Chelsea
*Sunderland – Everton had not been played at the time of this blog being written*.
Five Talking points from this week
- The Championship is heating up.
The hardest league to get out of in Europe. Take one look at the Championship table and you will see a league littered with European Cup winners, established ex-Premier League teams and managers who were at Champions League clubs just 2 years ago. Over £150m was spent on players by Championship clubs this season, more than 10 major European Leagues, including Holland and Portugal’s Premier Divisions.
The first 6 games of the Championship season sees Huddersfield lead the way, with 16 points from 6 games. With Jurgen Klopp’s mate David Wagner in charge, they have put together a squad with pace, energy and a cutting edge and could be a surprise contender to go up this season. Behind them are Newcastle, who seem to have found their stride under Rafa at this level. It would be a huge upset if they were not to get promoted this season with the squad they have at St. James’ Park.
Further down the table, QPR, Nottingham Forest and Birmingham, who are all my tips for the playoffs, have all had solid starts and will be hoping to finish in the top 6 at least this season. Nigel Pearson will be hoping that Derby’s poor start to the season turns around ASAP and a promotion bid takes shape soon – they only have 1 win from 6 so far and sit in 19th position.
Gary Monk’s future as Leeds manager looks very, very grim already, with his side only picking up 1 win from 6 and sitting 22nd in the league. Cellino must be itching to pull the trigger yet again.
With so many strong teams in the league this season a strong start is vital and September/October will give a better idea of who we can expect to see challenging this year.
- Liverpool could go close this season.
My main feature of this blog covered how close Manchester United and Manchester City will go in this season’s title race. While both are undoubtedly strong and offer the best starting XI’s in the league, I believe Liverpool will have a great season.
Leicester City proved last year that not being in Europe aided their league campaign massively. There is no doubt that a Thursday/Sunday schedule proved to be Liverpool’s downfall last year, with defeat in the Europa League showing how fatigued they were when it really mattered.
There are several factors behind my reason for tipping Liverpool to have a good season. New signings such as Sadio Mane seem to have settled straight away and the board look to have backed Klopp in to bringing in the players that he wants (no “transfer committee” in sight).
A full Klopp pre-season will also help the players adjust to his high intensity “gegenpressing” system and, on a good day, Liverpool will flatten teams. If they can sort out their horrendous injury record (they had 40 first team injuries last season), I tip them to go close. Certain top 4 for me.
- Barcelona lose at home to Alaves whilst both Madrid clubs win
How many accumulators did this result ruin this weekend?! Barcelona put out a slightly weakened squad with the Champions league tie against Celtic in mind midweek to face newly promoted Alaves at home on Saturday evening, with Paco Alcacer making his debut and Neymar returning from Olympic and International duty. Even with Messi, Suarez and Iniesta benched, it was expected that Barca make light work of their opposition. However, it did not go to plan at all at the Nou Camp, with Alaves grinding out an amazing 2-1 victory. Coach Luis Enrique accepted blame for the defeat, saying “I am the one ultimately responsible for all the bad things that happen”.
Elsewhere, Real Madrid beat Osasuna 5-2 at the Bernabeu to make it 3 league wins out of 3, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric getting on the scoresheet. Real made history by beating Osasuna, winning their 15th consecutive La Liga match.
Atletico beat Celta Vigo 4-0 away from home to maintain their strong start to the season, with Euro 2016 star Antoine Griezmann bagging a brace.
- Have Bayern won the Bundesliga already?
Stay with me on this. As stupid as it sounds, an argument could be made to say that with Borussia Dortmund losing to RB Leipzig and Bayern winning 2-0 away at Schalke, the league title may already be in the bag for Bayern.
On paper, this was one of Bayern’s toughest games of the season. Schalke at the Veltins arena are an extremely dangerous team and with new signings such as club-record transfer Breel Embolo, Bayern were expected to struggle. For 81 minutes, it was exactly that for Bayern. Schalke looked dangerous, hitting Bayern on the counter attack and hitting the Crossbar, but were unable to punish them with a goal. Just as it looked as if Schalke might hold on for a well-deserved point, Bayern stepped up a gear and scored twice in the last 10 minutes to heap the pressure on Dortmund, who played 24 hours later against Red Bull owned RB Leipzig.
Dortmund found it tough in Leipzig, only managing a handful of shots on target. A draw, although not ideal, would give Dortmund a solid base to build on after their win against Mainz in game week 1 of the Bundesliga season. A point looked as though it;d be what they’d get, until ex-Nottingham Forest winger Oliver Burke set up Naby Keita for an 89th minute Leipzig winner. A terrible defeat for Dortmund, who find their selves 3 points off Bayern after 2 games played.
Bayern are just too strong in the Bundesliga and most games are easy for them. Their opening game of the season was a 6-0 win against Werder Bremen, with some experts claiming it was just an extended pre-season game for them instead of the league opener. It is hard to see how anyone is going to compete with Bayern whilst they have the current crop of players and manager they have – Dortmund finished with a record 78 points last season – one of the highest points tallies of all time in the Bundesliga, but it still wasn’t enough to finish top.
- Gonzalo Higuain is proving his worth already.
After a month of transfer speculation over the summer, Juventus used the bulk of their Pogba money to sign Gonzalo Higuain from rivals Napoli for €90 million, making him one of the most expensive footballers of all time and the most expensive player ever for an Italian club. 3 games in to his Juventus career and Higuain looks to be worth the money that Juventus have laid out for him. On his debut, Higuain scored the winning goal against Fiorentina and then followed that up on 10th September with a brace in a 3-1 win against Sassuolo, one of which being a contender for goal of the season already with an overhead kick going top corner. Whilst questions will always linger over Higuain’s fitness, he is now at a club where there are more top level players around him to help him score even more goals than the record breaking season he had last season with Napoli. There is no doubting that he is an absolutely top level striker who will fire Juventus towards another Serie A title.
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