Big Weekend: McClaren, Sturridge, Costa, LVG

Date published: Friday 4th December 2015 8:44

Steve McClaren
When McClaren last faced a side managed by Jurgen Klopp, the then-Wolfsburg boss was out of a job within a few days. Newcastle’s meeting with Liverpool might not be must-win for the manager, but the Magpies have to show more signs of life on Sunday.

That shouldn’t be difficult given the abject nature of their capitulation at Crystal Palace last week. Newcastle were utterly dreadful and rightly “ashamed” of themselves, according to Siem de Jong. The travelling Toon Army used slightly more terse vocabulary but the sentiment was very similar, just as it was when McClaren was booed as he applauded the fans after the home defeat to Leicester the previous week.

The 5-1 reverse at Selhurst Park came after a week during which McClaren had read the riot act to his underperforming players. That approach failed to provoke his team, so apparently the manager  has swapped his stick for a carrot in the build up to Liverpool’s visit. The problem for McClaren is that motivation does not appear to be the main problem – his side are simply not good enough. Nor do they possess any modicum of necessary resilience. Newcastle have yet to gain a point from a losing position since the opening day of the season.

In the wake of the pummelling at Palace, Mike Williamson got the phone call he was probably dreading as McClaren recalled the centre-half from Wolves. It’s so call given that Newcastle have an injury-ravaged backline that has shipped 30 goals in 14 games. Williamson hasn’t played in the Premier League this season and, with captain with Fabricio Coloccini in dreadful form, the Liverpool attack could fill their boots again. Which brings us to…


Daniel Sturridge
The injury-prone striker came dangerously close to being written off over the last week before he reminded us all at Southampton why anyone puts up with his constant aches and pains.

During his first start under Klopp, Sturridge led the charge as Liverpool ripped the Saints a new one at St Mary’s. Rustiness would have been understandable, as would some trepidation from the England striker as he nursed his way back into the side. Yet Sturridge looked like he had never been away as he scored his 43rd and 44th Liverpool goals.

But Sturridge has teased us like this before. He then feels a twinge and nobody sees him outside the treatment room for weeks. Hopefully Klopp’s words last week and the team’s rejuvenation under the new boss should be incentive enough to try and forget the pain.

The big decision for Klopp is whether to start Sturridge again four days after the 6-1 win on the south coast. With Christian Benteke fit and Divock Origi in buoyant mood after his first hat-trick for the club, more cautious managers might sit Sturridge down on the bench. Against Newcastle, the likelihood is that he won’t be needed.Or is Klopp keen for his striker to get as many minutes in his delicate legs as possible? In which case, it threatens to be a very long afternoon for Coloccini and Co.


Mathieu Flamini
A couple of weeks ago, talk surrounded Flamini saving the planet with his biochemicals company. The world might have to wait; rescuing Arsenal’s title bid is a greater short-term priority.

With the club’s injury problems again threatening to ruin their season, Arsenal are relying on the man they tried to flog in the summer to play a pivotal role in the heart of their midfield.

With Santi Cazorla out for three months, joining Francis Coquelin, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere on the sidelines, Flamini is the forced flavour of the month. Arsene Wenger has other options if the veteran Frenchman can’t be relied upon on a twice-weekly basis, but the former Flamini knows he has doubters to silence: “I will try to prove every game that I can be in the team. Can I play twice a week for three months? I think I can but now it is my job to prove it.”

The weekend’s home clash with Sunderland won’t be Flamini’s biggest test, certainly not from a defensive point of view. Coquelin’s tackling is unlikely to be badly missed against Sam Allardyce’s side, but Cazorla’s eye for a pass might be. Flamini (presumably alongside Aaron Ramsey) will be keenly judged.


Chelsea’s returning stars
Asmir Begovic is not the man responsible for the Chelsea’s dreadful start to the season but, despite the Bosnian keeping three consecutive clean sheets, he’s not Thibaut Courtois.

Jose Mourinho looks set to get his No. 1 goalkeeper back this weekend after three months on the sidelines. Chelsea fans need all the positive news they can get ahead.

Diego Costa is also likely to come back into Mourinho’s side following his strop at being left out at Tottenham. The Spaniard needs to channel his frustration towards the Bournemouth goal rather than their centre-halves and improve on his return of three goals in 11 games. He’s facing the division’s joint-worst defence.


Louis van Gaal
Suddenly, discussion seems to have moved on from whether Manchester United fans have lost their faith in Van Gaal to who they want to replace him with. This is despite being one point off the top of the table and a positive result in Wolfsburg away from the Champions League last-16.

United fans – and players, if sources this week are to be believed – may be hard to please, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to argue against the stream of accusations that Van Gaal is sucking the life out of his team. There can’t be many of Sir Alex Ferguson’s former players left who haven’t panned the current manager. Where are Ben Thornley and Philip Mulryne?

Of course, Van Gaal’s philosophy is not a lost cause. He has always offered the air of a man who knows something the rest of us don’t; making his side hard to beat is part of the plan before unleashing next season a more adventurous United team.

That said, Van Gaal is running dangerously low on goodwill. He’ll only retain what remains if United improve upon their recent form of three wins in nine games. Opponents West Ham are in their own rut, but beware the underdog. This is a side that has already won at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City this season.


The Saints are slightly on the slide, with the only consolation after Wednesday night’s humbling Capital one Cup exit being that the Premier League’s worst side await them this weekend.

It’s been a tricky couple of weeks for Ronald Koeman, with the thrashing by Liverpool following consecutive Premier League defeats. With January around the corner too, the manager is well aware of the job he faces to retain some of his stars. Sadio Mane, most pressingly.

This week, Koeman sent a very public message to the board that he won’t accept the continued sale of his prized assets. Despite his wishes, the Southampton job could be another rebuilding mission next summer, with Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pelle other candidates to have their heads turned. Persuading the big names to stick around will be a lot easier if the Saints can match their achievements of last season, meaning the team in tenth need to get back to winning ways sharpish. They’ll face a scrap against…


Aston Villa
It’s not like Villa aren’t trying, but aside from a creditable stalemate with Manchester City, Remi Garde has not been able to provide the new manager bounce that they Villa board were presumably hoping for. Nothing changes at Villa Park.

Garde has identified some of his problems already, though whether he has the tools to plug a defence that has leaked seven goals in the last two games is a different matter. The defeat to Watford at least provided an improved performance, though the previous week’s surrender at Everton was almost impossible not to better.

The manager is at least happy with the players’ attitudes, which may give them an edge over some of their supposedly more talented relegation rivals. Garde spoke positively of “the commitment, the way the want to save this club, the way they are training to get the best out of themselves,” but Villa need to start picking up points quickly. They remain 31 points off the 36 mark – the average points tally required to stay up over the last decade.


Jamie Vardy
The Leicester striker may feel like a weight has been lifted after scoring against Manchester United to claim the Premier League record. Now comes the challenge to extend his run; Vardy must retain the intensity he has displayed throughout his 11-game streak.

Vardy has received plaudits from all over the globe this week, with a movie of his life story said to be in the offing. Only half the story is written, though. The striker will hope to have France as the backdrop for a blockbuster ending next summer.

With Sturridge showing no signs of rustiness, the competition for places in Roy Hodgson’s squad will be intense. He might be the Premier League’s top scorer, but Vardy still seems likely to be the fall guy if everyone else is fit. The only way to change Hodgson’s mind is to keep on scoring through to Christmas and beyond.


Ian Watson

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