The spectre of Man Utd hangs over many more people than just their interim-interim manager. Leicester and PSG have to ignore it for their own sakes in Europe…
Game to watch – Manchester City v PSG
We have to at least pretend that Manchester United isn’t the only story this week. And that City’s clash with PSG is bigger than the ‘Mauricio Pochettino heads to Manchester’ subplot. So humour us for a few paragraphs…
Pep and Poch meet at the Etihad on Wednesday night in a battle which will almost certainly decide who qualifies from Group A in top spot. Both could earn a place in the knockout stages even with a defeat if Club Brugge don’t beat RB Leipzig.
If Brugge triumph and City gain revenge for their 2-0 defeat in Paris back in September then it could leave Pochettino and PSG facing an awkward final group game against the Belgians, and open up the manager to further criticism, despite Poch having the Parisians 11 points clear at the Ligue 1 summit.
So it is little wonder that Pochettino is supposedly fed up of life in France already, especially while he lives Jose-style in a Paris hotel with his family still in London.
Look, we can’t escape the United angle. The pre-match press conference on Tuesday will arguably generate more interest than Wednesday night’s meeting, despite Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe rolling up with their mates in Manchester.
Neymar is an injury doubt, with Kevin De Bruyne also missing for City. It will doubtless be a fascinating game to watch, but with City already through, like Chelsea and Liverpool, their serene progress means they pass up the spotlight for the chaos unfolding at Old Trafford.
Manager to watch – Michael Carrick
Carrick is the man expected to bring some order to said chaos, with one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s assistants leading the rest when United travel to Villarreal on Tuesday evening.
Carrick, Mike Phelan, Kieran McKenna and co. find themselves in a tricky situation. If United’s players were fed up with the coaching, training and lack of tactical instruction, then those coaches bear as much of the blame as Solskjaer for the squad’s discontent. It was they who put the bibs and cones out so if the United players are expecting immediate day-to-day changes in Solskjaer’s absence, they might be sorely disappointed.
So how does Carrick attempt to steer United in a different direction? Without a fresh face or voice, will the Red Devils raise their standards from their shameful display at Watford and the pitiful performances against Liverpool and Manchester City?
How much does Carrick want to be seen to be his own man? Some changes are inevitable but even the best coaches can’t implement widespread and sustainable improvements in one recovery training session and another leg-stretcher before United board the plane to Spain.
The easiest changes are in personnel. Meaning this fella has to start….
Player to watch – Donny van de Beek
We had it pegged as a Big Weekend for Donny and it eventually turned out that way. But only after he had been left on the bench yet again by Solskjaer.
After scoring what was the final goal of Solskjaer’s reign, Van de Beek has presumably skipped into training over the last couple of days, more secure than ever in the knowledge that he will surely start against Villarreal.
Van de Beek lifted United when he rose from the bench, involved in most of what little good the visitors offered at Vicarage Road, with his close-range finish giving United hope of yet another comeback. False hope, obviously.
But the chance to rescue his Old Trafford career is finally here for Van de Beek. He has earned a run in the United team – whoever picks it – and has a new manager to impress that doesn’t appear to hate him.
The United supporters are certainly keen to see what he can do. His name was sung long and loud in the second half against City and the first half at Watford. Now, belatedly, is Van de Beek’s opportunity to show what he can do. Which is surely no worse than Fred or Nemanja Matic.
But before Rodgers worries about United, he has some major issues to resolve for his current employer as they face the prospect of Europa League elimination.
Defeat at home to Legia would end their hopes of finishing top of Group C and qualifying for the knockout round while Napoli avoiding defeat against bottom-placed Spartak Moscow would see the Foxes dumped into the Europa Conference League knockout round play-offs.
Rodgers takes Leicester into a must-win game after a hugely dispiriting defeat to Chelsea at the weekend. Injuries haven’t helped, but the Foxes were a mess as they suffered yet another home defeat. Since the start of last season, they have lost more Premier League games at the King Power than they have won.
Defensively, the back three as it was this weekend was pulled to pieces by Chelsea, while the defensive screen of Wilfred Ndidi and Boubakary Soumare was as much use as a chocolate fireguard. The Blues played around and through them at will, and none of the changes Rodgers made could stem the tide.
Going forward, it was a similar story. Jamie Vardy was joined by a strike partner in Kelechi Iheanacho for the second half but Chelsea’s back three made light work of pocketing the pair. In the end, the 3-0 scoreline flattered Leicester.
They are hardly a demanding lot at the King Power but the fans made their dissatisfaction very clear at half-time, while the full-time whistle was greeted with resigned groans by those who bothered to stick around. Rodgers needs to arrest this slump and fast.
EFL game to watch – Fulham v Derby
It was bottom versus top for Derby at the weekend. Their victory over Bournemouth means it’s the same again for the Rams when they travel to Craven Cottage on Wednesday night.
You wouldn’t have blamed Wayne Rooney for throwing in the towel last week when the Rams’ points deduction was confirmed as amounting to 21 just before they faced the top two sides in the Championship.
But Rooney reaffirmed his commitment before overseeing one of the best second-half performances the Championship will see this season as Derby moved up to zero points with a come-from-behind win over the Cherries.
Can they do it again at Fulham? Maybe. And then many more times between now and May to pull off one of the greatest escapes? Probably not. But Rooney’s Rams seem to be having a good crack at it.