Big Weekend: Benteke, Jose, Wenger, Herrera

Matt Stead

Christian Benteke
Of Liverpool’s nine Premier League goals so far this season, four have come from injured pair Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings, with James Milner and Philippe Coutinho providing one strike each. The other three goals belong to Christian Benteke, the Reds’ top goalscorer and the man they desperately need available if Jurgen Klopp is to compound Chelsea’s misery with a first league win of his tenure.

The Capital One Cup win over Bournemouth continued a sequence of steady improvement for the Reds under German rule. Roberto Firmino and a trio of Liverpool debutants earned praise from their manager after the game, but Klopp will know his side desperately crave a potent goal threat where Divock Origi currently stands looking lost. That much depends on the fitness of £32.5million summer signing Benteke.

Only Spurs and West Ham are on longer current unbeaten league runs than Liverpool, but a five-game streak without defeat includes four draws for Klopp’s side. Binary is becoming sexy under the German; Liverpool’s last six scorelines in all competitions read: 1-1, 1-1, 0-0, 1-1, 1-1, 1-0. With Chelsea in complete disarray, the long-awaited first meeting between Klopp and Jose Mourinho threatens to disappoint. Provided Benteke can shake off a hamstring injury to start at Stamford Bridge, his side could stake a legitimate claim as favourites on Saturday lunchtime.


Jose Mourinho
An unprecedented amount of pressure rests firmly on Jose Mourinho’s shoulders. The 2-1 reverse at West Ham on Saturday represented his 23rd loss of his second reign at Chelsea – the most defeats he has ever suffered in any of his seven managerial posts. It is only the Portuguese’s third longest reign as a manager to date (127 games), but it’s difficult to envisage this tenure eclipsing his first Chelsea spell (185 games) or his time at Real Madrid (178).

Yet another defeat – this in a penalty shoot-out – was suffered on Wednesday, but there were at least signs of life for the Blues in their eighth loss of a 16-game campaign thus far. In his first public appearance since his dismissal and subsequent refusal to speak to the media last weekend, Mourinho appeared satisfied with his players:

“What the players did tonight is face the people that write and say, ‘you are stupid’. You think my players are not with me? You think my players are not giving everything to win the game? I think that’s really sad; not to me but to the players. It’s a lack of respect.”

After the defeat to West Ham I wrote how Mourinho was becoming the main victim of his own siege mentality at Chelsea. Whether he has lost the trust and dedication of his Premier League title-winning squad is yet to be seen, but a home loss to Liverpool is, as has been reported, an unfathomable scenario if the manager is to remain.


Arsene Wenger and Arsenal’s right-winger
It was all very Arsenal, wasn’t it? A four-game winning streak involving 10 goals scored and one conceded, with victories over Manchester United and Bayern Munich among them, was permeated by a 3-0 Cup reverse against Championship Sheffield Wednesday. The sight of Theo Walcott hobbling off on 18 minutes after he himself had replaced the injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain summed up a horrible night for the Gunners.

Arsene Wenger had confirmed the inevitable by Thursday afternoon: “We hope they are light injuries, but they are out until after the international break.” It’s a spell which involves a vital Champions League group stage clash with Bayern Munich where they surely need at least a draw, as well as a north London derby with a Spurs side on the longest unbeaten Premier League run of any club. First up however are Swansea, who the Gunners haven’t beaten in three games.

Having reprised their familiar role at the top of the injuries table and restored balance to football, Arsenal face a selection dilemma before heading to the Liberty Stadium. Aaron Ramsey has been joined by Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, leaving Arsenal with an embarrassment of injuries as opposed to riches.

Asked who could be deployed there on Saturday, Wenger replied: “Campbell and Alex Iwobi.” Neither have ever started a Premier League match. The manager would also be loathe to move Santi Cazorla from central midfield to his former role as winger, while the possibility of utilising Kieran Gibbs or Hector Bellerin further upfield could be explored.

All options have lasting repercussions throughout the starting XI, such as disrupting the central midfield, ending Bellerin’s excellent spell at right-back and having to rely on Mathieu Debuchy, or playing Kieran Gibbs when Kieran Gibbs is busy being Kieran Gibbs, and so handing a fifth Premier League appearance to Campbell appears the least risky. The 23-year-old World Cup hero for country needs to start producing for club.


Ander Herrera
For all the criticism leveled at Wayne Rooney after another abject performance at the weekend, perhaps the most underwhelming and disappointing Manchester derby showing was that of Ander Herrera.

Herrera’s is a strange case. Since his signing in July of last year, the Spaniard has played fewer minutes in the Premier League (2,260) under Louis van Gaal than Antonio Valencia (2,867) and Ashley Young (2,334), while he has played just half an hour longer in the league than Sergio Romero this season. Seen as the perfect man to link midfield and attack in the No 10 role, Herrera has rarely been given a consistent run in the starting XI by his distrusting manager.

Against Everton a fortnight ago, it felt like a corner had been turned. United put in their best performance of the season – and one of the best under Van Gaal’s tutelage – to secure a 3-0 victory. That the win coincided with Herrera’s restoration to the starting line-up after missing the previous three games was no accident; a goal and an assist typified a performance which surely had to convince his manager.

Since, the 26-year-old has been a largely peripheral figure. Herrera offered little of note as United toiled to a 1-1 draw with CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, while his derby performance was bitterly disappointing. After starting the Capital One Cup third-round tie with Ipswich last month, Herrera’s role as unused substitute in the fourth-round defeat to Middlesbrough at least points to an upgrade in his squad standing for the league. However, if the Spaniard continues to offer little tangible return on Van Gaal’s faith, you have to fear the Dutchman will soon run out of patience with the 26-year-old once more.


Alan Pardew

“They’re good games for us, Man City and Man United. We look forward to those and hopefully (we can) get ourselves a win.”

Alan Pardew probably didn’t envisage a 5-1 defeat to Manchester City when speaking before the game on Wednesday. The Capital One Cup loss represented a third consecutive reverse in all competitions since returning from the international break, and Manchester United are up next.

Having scaled the heights of second in the Premier League table at one stage this season, the Pardew magic has worn off at least slightly for Palace. They still sit in seventh and just four points off the Champions League places, but the same gap separates them from 15th-placed Chelsea. Pardew’s longest losing streak since joining Palace in January is four games, the last of which came against Manchester United. He will hope history has not repeated itself come 5pm on Saturday.


David Sullivan and West Ham

“In football, we’re here to dream. At the start of the season we were in four competitions and the aim was to win those four. Now we’re down to two – we’ve got the big double left – and it’s very, very unlikely but not impossible.” – West Ham co-chairman David Sullivan, October 29

The first stop on West Ham’s road to Premier League and FA Cup glory is a trip to Watford, who have lost their last two games at previous fortress Vicarage Road. The Hammers haven’t tasted league defeat since August and occupy third place in the Premier League table. A home win for the Hornets almost seems inevitable, doesn’t it?


Manuel Pellegrini
One goal and two assists in a match-winning performance; Pellegrini could hardly have expected more from 18-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho against Crystal Palace in the Capital One Cup in midweek. The Nigerian has impressed in substitute cameos in the Premier League, and after earning an opportunity from the start, he grabbed it with both hands. The boy with the middle name ‘Promise’ appears unlucky to have missed out on our list of the top 10 Premier League teenagers.

What Iheanacho’s Palace performance will do is give Pellegrini food for thought. Manchester City have scored 12 goals in the four games since Sergio Aguero’s injury-enforced absence earlier this month, and though Wilfried Bony has scored three of those, the Ivorian has struggled leading the line. Iheanacho’s impressive showings merely serve to emphasise Bony’s own poor performances. Could Norwich provide the perfect opponents to hand Iheanacho a shock first start? Knowing Pellegrini, perhaps not; but the pressure mounts on Bony with each passing game.


Norwich and Bournemouth
Only Aston Villa (nine) have gone more games without tasting victory than last season’s Championship winners (four) and Alex Neil’s side (five), while only Newcastle have as porous as a defence. The feelgood factor has worn off, and Bournemouth look to arrest their decline in a south coast derby at Southampton, while Norwich have the simple task of visiting Manchester City.


Jamie Vardy
Alan Shearer, Ian Wright, Thierry Henry, Mark Stein and Emmanuel Adebayor. A goal against West Brom on Saturday would see Jamie Vardy surpass such footballing luminaries and join Ruud van Nistelrooy and Daniel Sturridge as having scored in eight consecutive Premier League games.

The England international has 10 goals in 10 all in all, but faces a Baggies defence who have kept clean sheets in six of their last nine league games. No side has earned more shut-outs than West Brom in the league since Pulis’ appointment in January (16), but Vardy inexplicably looks more capable than any other striker of breaching such a mean backline.


Matt Stead