Game to watch – Cardiff City v Manchester City
“We are going to prepare completely different against Cardiff to how we prepared for Bristol City, because Cardiff, they play a lot of long balls and they are so aggressive, so we have to try and adapt so well.”
Not for Pep Guardiola the blithe assumption that England’s best team could outplay Wales’ second-best team with nary a thought for the dangers poised by a side chasing promotion from the Championship. Guardiola will take his City side to south Wales with instructions for his centre-backs about diagonal balls, his central midfielders about lingering on the ball too long and his strikers about staying away from the rather large arms, legs and head of Sol Bamba. He may want to brace himself for his own pitch-side battle with Neil Warnock, too.
This is one of those fixtures that can still get you giddy about the FA Cup. The only shame is that Cardiff no longer play at a stadium where Warnock can turn down the heating in an away dressing-room left filthy and smelling of some unidentifiable meat; how he would love to be turning off lights and turning on music in an attempt to discombobulate City’s pampered stars.
Still, even in a shiny new-ish stadium that offers a disappointingly level playing field, Warnock’s mission will be to make City feel as uncomfortable as possible. “He’ll know what he can expect from us, he’s not daft,” said the Cardiff City manager. And that’s why this one is so intriguing – they may be poles apart in footballing philosophies, but neither Guardiola nor Warnock are daft enough to make this anything other than massively entertaining.
Warnock v Guardiola will be a game for the ages
— Alex Ingham (@Alex__Ingham) January 16, 2018
Player to watch – Alexis Sanchez
Never mind that it’s Yeovil. Never mind that it’s Huish Park. Never mind that Manchester United are 1/8 to win. This game is all about seeing Alexis Sanchez in a Manchester United shirt playing something other than a piano. Will he play left, central or right? Will he start? Will he come off the bench for the last 20 minutes with United chasing a goal? Will he score? How will he celebrate? Will he do that ‘hands on hips, head tilted to the sky’ thing when Jesse Lingard misplaces a pass?
Cancel your plans for Friday night; you’re watching Yeovil v Alexis Sanchez.
— Yeovil Town FC (@YTFC) January 22, 2018
Team to watch – Liverpool
Monday night was bad. Monday night was really bad. Monday night was ‘four shots on target against the worst side in the Premier League’ bad. Monday night was bringing on Danny Ings bad. Monday night was stodgy, predictable and slow…like Liverpool had watched the video of their victory over Manchester City and decided to make an audacious attempt to arrive at the same destination by driving in the opposite direction.
Saturday simply has to be better and that should mean a return for Adam Lallana, whose guile will be needed to break down a West Brom defence who found it all-too easy to stop Liverpool at Anfield in December. We could also catch a rare glimpse of Daniel Sturridge, who is said to be ‘desperate’ to face the Baggies, while there is an outside chance that Jordan Henderson will make an appearance. Expect Anfield to slump in their seats in collective apathy when he climbs off the bench at 0-0 with 15 minutes left on the clock.
It may not be his priority in this or any other season but Klopp has yet to make it past the fourth round of the FA Cup despite being given two favourable home draws. Making it a hat-trick – and ending a nine-month unbeaten home run – would test the patience of even the most besotted Liverpool fan. This one should matter.
Manager to watch – Antonio Conte
“I’m doing a fantastic job; the same my players. It is not important if you reach the final or win a trophy or win the league,” said Antonio Conte, just before his team limped out of one competition. On Sunday they could tumble out of another as Newcastle visit in the FA Cup. We see Conte’s point that teams should be judged on something other than silverware, but losing the chance to win two trophies in five days would surely challenge the Italian’s claim that this is “already a good season”.
It’s difficult to argue that Conte’s words are not having a detrimental effect on his players, who have had their ceiling lowered by a manager who has never quite come to terms with Chelsea not operating on the same financial level as the Manchester clubs. Signalling that finishing third and without a trophy would still constitute an excellent season is not the greatest of motivational speeches in the week when Chelsea played two winnable cup ties. Can he lift them for the visit of Newcastle? Can he lift himself? He looks and sounds like a man counting the minutes to the point at which he can walk away.
Read this by Daniel Storey from earlier this week; he does not have a whole lot of sympathy.
One-on-one battle to watch – Padraig Amond v Juan Foyth
It’s the 29-year-old Irish striker with almost 400 senior appearances v the 20-year-old centre-half with 12 senior appearances.
It’s the striker with three goals in his last five League Two games v the centre-half yet to be trusted in the Premier League.
Padraig Amond has played in the Stadium of Light (v Benfica, not Sunderland) and has faced Real Madrid in a friendly; he will fancy himself to ruffle the feathers of the promising but green Juan Foyth.
“You want to test yourselves against these players. Without saying we are going to beat them or anything like that, they are not going to enjoy coming to play in Newport,” said Amond last week. He may well have Senor Foyth in mind.
Just don’t give him this much space, Juan…
⚽ | Another fantastic piece of link-up play between Ben White and Padraig Amond for County's first goal last night!
— Newport County AFC (@NewportCounty) January 20, 2018
European game to watch – AC Milan v Lazio
“Naturally, he needs time. He’ll be assessed in terms of results but, clearly, he can’t be asked to qualify for the Champions League,” says Milan legend Paolo Maldini of coach Gennaro Gattuso, who has somehow eked a four-game unbeaten streak out of a flawed squad that can now realistically at least target a top-six place.
This weekend they face Lazio, with Milan will be looking to avenge a devastating 4-1 defeat from September. The problem is that Lazio have been scoring goals for whatever is Italian for fun, with 13 goals coming in three games since the winter break. They are bound for an unlikely and very creditable third-place finish and the chance to play Champions League football.
For Liverpool fans, this is Suso v Luis Alberto, with the added bonus of a glimpse at Lucas Leiva.
For the rest of us, it’s all about watching Gattuso re-build Milan using only his bare hands.
46 – Since Gennaro Gattuso's appointment as manager (last 7 match-days), AC Milan have fired the most shots on target in Serie A (46). Rise. pic.twitter.com/W6HkYIUOIl
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) January 24, 2018
Writer to watch – Sarah Winterburn