Game to watch – Manchester United v Manchester City
As we watched Wayne Rooney drop deeper than John Stones during the purgatory that was Sam Allardyce’s first England game in Slovakia, the one thing that kept us sane/awake was the thought that they would soon be on a different pitch, on opposite sides, in the most mouthwatering clash of this nascent season. The media are calling it Jose v Pep or Zlatan v Pep or Rashford v Iheanacho, but we are calling it simply Manchester United v Manchester City. It’s Manchester v Manchester, it’s 1st v 3rd, it’s two bloody good teams with different styles. Frankly, we have the collective horn.
The only black cloud over this fixture is the unavailability of Sergio Aguero, guilty of a d*** move against West Ham that means we are denied the chance to see these two teams at full strength. Whether it be Nolito, Iheanacho or a false nine playing in his stead, City are undeniably weaker for his absence. Does that mean that Jose Mourinho could ignore his natural inclination to turn a big game into a tight, attention-sapping affair? How will United fans react if their manager parks a massive bus at Old Trafford? They wouldn’t accept it from David Moyes or Louis van Gaal, but right now, Mourinho has a whole heap of good will; they are even forgiving him Marouane Fellaini.
The mainstream media is desperate to see Marcus Rashford start, but I would be surprised if Mourinho changed a winning side. Rashford’s pace, finishing and nationality have made him fascinating back-page fodder, but it really is okay that he is Manchester United’s second-choice striker at the age of 18. In fact, it’s more than okay; it’s a phenomenal achievement. And as a Premier League neutral, it’s almost more exciting to know that he is ready to provide an extra gear from the bench. Zlatan getting no joy from Nicolas Otamendi? Test him on the turn. Anthony Martial struggling with deliveries from the wing? Move Wayne Rooney wide and partner Rashford with the Swede. Mourinho has potentially game-changing options with Rashford – and hopefully a fit Henrikh Mkhitaryan – in reserve.
There will be plenty of nonsense written about handshakes and red wine in the build-up to this match but we would prefer to focus on Paul Pogba, Ibrahimovic, Martial, Rashford, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Stones and Eric Bailly. If you don’t find somebody in that list that you are a tad tingly to watch this weekend, then you and I cannot be friends.
Player to watch – Jack Wilshere
“I’m really enthused to see him in a Bournemouth shirt,” says Eddie Howe. Us too, Eddie. It’s an absolutely fascinating loan spell – a player I strongly believe is the most naturally talented English midfielder to emerge in the last ten years joining a side I fully expected to struggle this season. Can he haul Bournemouth closer to his standard and stymy the kind of panic that set in last week against Crystal Palace as they continued a run of just one win in 11 Premier League games? Or will the Cherries pull him down to their lower-reach level as he is forced to play with Andrew Surman rather than Mesut Ozil and Jordon Ibe rather than Alexis Sanchez? Or will he just break?
He could not have asked for a better fixture in which to make his debut – at home against West Brom, a team that will happily cede possession to Bournemouth and allow their new signing, in theory, to dictate the pace of the game. If the sun is shining on the south coast on Saturday afternoon, this could be a whole lot of fun for Wilshere and fans who really must be pinching themselves. When Wilshere made his England debut in August 2010, Bournemouth had just lost the opening game of their League One season to Charlton; can he take them even further away from those much darker days?
Team to watch – Liverpool
Any criticism of Liverpool’s start to the season (and I offered plenty in my 16 Conclusions from an ultimately frustrating day at Tottenham) has been countered with the fact that the Reds are yet to play at home. Four points from three away games is not disastrous, it’s true, but it does mean that there is pressure on this first clash at Anfield against the Premier League champions. “We have a home game and it’s a wonderful opportunity for us,” says Klopp, who knows that a solid 2-0 win over Leicester will assuage any slight doubts in the minds of Liverpool fans wondering whether they are again heading towards a season of inconsistent ‘almost’ rather than a sustained battle for a Champions League place.
Beat Leicester and they will have the same points as Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool last season; that will feel promising. Draw and they will have the same points as Roberto Martinez’s Everton after four games; that will feel underwhelming. Lose and they will have the same points as Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at the same stage last season; that will feel pretty bloody depressing.
Manager to watch – David Moyes (Sunderland)
“This reminds me a little bit of Everton when I took over. Everton had been in the bottom six, I think, four out of the five years before I came in. In my last eight years, I never finished outside the top eight. Hopefully we can do a bit of an Everton,” said Moyes when he took over at Sunderland. Now we will see the gulf between Moyes’ new Sunderland side – with ten new additions – and his old club, who can have realistic hopes of a top-six finish.
He may have warned Black Cats fans of a relegation battle, but they will only believe it is an actual battle rather than a meek surrender if they can start picking up results. That means £13.6m Didier Ndong seamlessly adapting to English football, Steven Pienaar and Victor Anichebe looking like more than favours for friends, and somebody (anybody) but Jermain Defoe scoring goals. Only 18 Premier League goals were scored by Sunderland players last season who are a) still at the club and b) not Defoe. No pressure, David, but you need to magic some goals from somewhere. And that never was your strong point.
One-on-one battle to watch – Olivier Giroud v Virgil van Dijk
Awful in a 0-0 clash with Belarus in France colours in midweek, Olivier Giroud will surely make his first Arsenal start of the season against Southampton, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain likely to be the fall guy as Alexis Sanchez reverts to the wing. Giroud would probably prefer gentler opposition; Van Dijk and Jose Fonte found him a little too easy to curtail in games which ended 4-0 to Southampton and 0-0 last season.
See the Daily Mail’s player ratings after that 0-0 for evidence of the battle between the pair: ‘As with Fonte, he helped keep Olivier Giroud quiet and ensure that Sanchez and Ozil were diverted away from shooting positions. One such example in the second-half saw him slide in to take the ball from Giroud in a good position and he made a glorious sliding tackle to deny Ozil as he closed in on goal late on.’
It’s time to try again, Olivier. You might want to get it right this time with Lucas Perez now sat waiting on the bench.
Football League game to watch – Leeds United v Huddersfield Town
A local derby? Tick. A Leeds side – and manager – desperately needing a result after three defeats in their opening five games? Tick. A Huddersfield side sitting surprisingly atop the Championship? Tick. It’s just a shame that this is not on the telly. In March it ended 4-1. I’m not even going to vaguely pretend to be neutral on this one. David Wagner…he’s better than Klopp.
European game to watch – Atalanta v Torino
Because we’re desperate to see if Atalanta can pick up their first point of the season? Because we miss Alberto Paloschi? Because we’re excited to see new Italian striker Andrea Belotti? None of the above. We just want to see if Joe Hart drops a clanger.
Punt of the week – Manchester City to win
It just seems a bit daft that a side that has started the season with five wins in all competitions should be a pretty big 12/5 to win at Old Trafford when Guardiola’s record against Mourinho sides is really very impressive. It’s not a mortgage job but a tenner might make it an even more interesting watch.
Where is Mike Dean?
Not even extravagantly picking the ball up at Old Trafford, where he is the fourth official.
Before a ball has even been kicked.#CelebrityRefs
— Celebrity Refs (@CelebrityRefs) August 13, 2016
Ten live matches to watch (because having a social life is overrated)
– Schalke v Bayern Munich (Friday, 7.30pm, BT Sport 3)
– Reading v Ipswich Town (Friday, 7.45pm, Sky Sports 1)
– Celtic v Rangers (Saturday, 12pm, Sky Sports 2)
– Manchester United v Manchester City (Saturday, 12.30pm, Sky Sports 1)
– Sevilla v Las Palmas (Saturday, 5.15pm, Sky Sports 2)
– Liverpool v Leicester City (Saturday, 5.30pm, BT Sport 1)
– Aston Villa v Nottingham Forest (Sunday, 1.15pm, Sky Sports 1)
– Atalanta v Torino (Sunday, 2pm, BT Sport Extra 2)
– Swansea v Chelsea (Sunday, 4pm, Sky Sports 1)
– Sunderland v Everton (Monday, 8pm, Sky Sports 1)