Big Weekend: Spurs v Liverpool, Martial, Arsenal, Conte

Date published: Friday 20th October 2017 9:40

Game to watch – Tottenham v Liverpool
Three teams have taken over 150 shots in the Premier League this season, with Tottenham and Liverpool joining Manchester City in that exclusive club of attacking intent; Premier League games featuring Tottenham or Liverpool have delivered an average of over three goals this season; there has only been one goalless draw between Tottenham and Liverpool over the last five years. All the evidence is pointing towards an actual proper football match with actual proper chances and everything. And yes, we did try to convince ourselves about Liverpool v Manchester United last week, but it always felt like we were swimming through the thick, slimy mud of Jose Mourinho’s pragmatism.

These two teams meet on a level-ish playing field – both played away in Europe on Tuesday night, both have injuries but nothing debilitating, both are flawed but essentially play front-foot football. The interesting twist is that Spurs have not beaten Liverpool home or away since 2012, when Gareth Bale scored a goal for each side. Jurgen Klopp is one of only two managers (the other is old campaigner José Luis Mendilibar) who Mauricio Pochettino has faced five times and never beaten. Will Sunday bring some degree of redemption? There will surely be no more talk of the Wembley curse if Tottenham can take a genuine Premier League scalp in their temporary home.

An away draw against a top-six rival might ordinarily seem like a good point (just ask Jose), but Liverpool could well end Sunday 11 points behind the Premier League leaders if they go to Wembley with that mindset. But then they wouldn’t do that, would they anyway?  Just listen to Jurgen: “You could not do this at Liverpool. Obviously for United it is okay.”

We consider that a promise. And we take promises very seriously. Especially when we are committed to 16 sodding Conclusions.


Player to watch – Anthony Martial
Most key passes per 90 mins in the Premier League (among those who have played more than five PL games): Anthony Martial.

Most successful dribbles per 90 mins in the Premier League (among those who have played more than five PL games): Anthony Martial.

He really should destroy Huddersfield Town on Saturday afternoon, for Huddersfield Town are not a team designed to stifle the opposition (see the thwacking by Tottenham as an example). The Terriers will push their full-backs up the pitch like ball-dominating title favourites and allow plentiful space for the likes of Martial, who should start after Marcus Rashford limped off the pitch in Portugal on Wednesday.

Anthony Martial has played fewer minutes for Manchester United this season than Victor Lindelof. Come on Jose, let him off the leash.


Team to watch – Arsenal
Arsenal have garnered as many points from four Premier League away games this season as Brighton and Stoke, with their single point on the road coming at Chelsea. Astonishingly, their only away goal of the season came last week at Watford, when they opened the scoring through Per Mertesacker before they lost their ‘cojones’. But they can at least argue that the Hornets are on a run of remarkable form, while Sunday’s opponents Everton really are there for the taking. No excuses, Arsenal need to start being a few notches above functional.

Sixth is okay as long as Arsenal are holding their own in cup competitions – just ask Manchester United – but the Gunners are in danger of dropping below even that standard. Sunday has to be about going to a stadium other than the Emirates and making themselves relevant, forcing themselves into the chasing pack. And with Alexis Sanchez likely to be back, they really do have no excuses. Come on Arsenal, make Roy Keane’s latest nonsense sound like nothing more than hot air from a man who does disdain on demand.


Manager to watch – Antonio Conte
The Chelsea manager has admitted that this is an “emergency situation”. He was talking about injuries (four potential central midfielders either out or major doubts) rather than Chelsea’s unenviable record of three games without a win, but it’s fair to say that there is considerable pressure on the Italian, who always seems about three seconds from throwing his arms in the air and saying “I bloody told you we didn’t have enough players”. The last thing he needs – less than three days after a draining 3-3 draw with Roma – is a clash with a Watford side who are happily bloodying noses across England. His options are looking thinner than his original hair.

Now is the time to really manage Chelsea Football Club rather than the 13 or 14 players who helped him with the title in his first season. He has to find solutions, not only to the potential hole in his midfield, but to a defence that suddenly looks very fragile indeed. Our humble suggestion is that Conte picks a back three and shows a little bit of faith for a few games; not least because it seems to be befuddling the usually reliable Cesar Azpilicueta. And that really is an emergency situation.


One-on-one battle to watch – Harry Winks v Jordan Henderson
If you can go toe to toe with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos and emerge with your dignity, then facing that stodgy Liverpool midfield should be a breeze for Harry Winks. Jordan Henderson was rested in midweek so he will be fresh as a daisy to showcase all his tricks at Wembley – the stuttering run, the hesitation, the visibly changed mind, the sideways pass – and show Winks how English central midfielders really should play, with no real flair and rather a lot of running around.

This is Future England v Current England and we have to hope that Future England emerges the victor, and then that Winks retains that lightness on his feet, fearlessness and self-belief.


Football League game to watch – Ipswich v Norwich
It’s been almost ten years since Ipswich last beat Norwich, though they have at least made a recent habit of grinding out a 1-1 draw. A month ago, they would have been confident of reversing East Anglian fortunes, ensconced as they were in the play-off positions while Norwich were mired in mid-table after a difficult start to the season under their new German manager. But since then, Ipswich have lost three of their last four Championship games and slipped below the Canaries in the table.

But we are contractually obliged at this point to say that form goes out of the window on derby days, or at least that’s what you hope if you are an Ipswich fan.

Oh and this one could be tasty because this was how Norwich striker Nelson Oliviera opened the sparring: “I know it’s an important match for us and for the fans because it’s a derby, and we go there to win the game because we are better than them, we have better players than them, we are a better club than them, so we go there for the win.”

* rubs hands together *


European game to watch – Napoli v Inter Milan
First v second. And we told you to watch Manchester City v Napoli in midweek, so you really do need to trust us sometimes.


Compiler to watch – Sarah Winterburn

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