Big Weekend: Liverpool v Man Utd, Sean Dyche, Newcastle, Brennan Johnson

Ian Watson

It should be a big game – arguably the biggest – but does anyone really believe Manchester United will make a game of it at Liverpool? Also: returns for Sean Dyche and Brennan Johnson, while Newcastle need to kickstart their push for Europe…

 

Game to watch – Liverpool v Manchester United
Funny old game and all that, but is there anyone out there who expects Manchester United to get a result at Anfield on Sunday?

The Red Devils haven’t even scored there since 2018 and they have never looked less likely to end that barren run. It will take a colossal f*** up on Liverpool’s part to not pierce a patchwork defence and then concede to a team so devoid of creativity even when their most creative player is available. Which Bruno Fernandes is not on this occasion.

The United skipper sits out due to a suspension in the wake of a late booking for dissent while 3-0 at home to Bournemouth last week. Stupid, right? We hope so, for United’s sake.

You almost wouldn’t blame Bruno for not fancying another miserable run out at Anfield. Been there, done that. And though United have gone to Merseyside in some sorry states in recent years, have they ever been less fancied than this?

It’s hardly as though Liverpool are firing on all cylinders. Indeed, they were ‘horrendous’ for most of last Saturday’s clash with Crystal Palace and though they are top of the table, little is really being said about these Reds. Which may be just how they like it, but it’s still odd.

Regardless, Liverpool’s ‘horrendous’ would still likely be enough to beat this rotten United.

Read more: Liverpool are top of the Premier League but nobody’s really talking about them which seems… unusual

 

Team to watch – Newcastle
Newcastle have had a similar week to Manchester United. Last time out in the Premier League, they were beaten by three goals, admittedly at a Tottenham side that has rediscovered its mojo rather than Bournemouth at home, before they went out of Europe in midweek by bravely finishing bottom of their group.

That requires context too. Newcastle had a devilish group; Manchester United really did not. Still, the outcome is the same and as they return to domestic action, the Magpies have some catching up to do with the Red Devils and the teams above them ready to mount a credible top four challenge.

That won’t be easy for Eddie Howe and his shattered side. They begin their quest to return to Europe when they welcome a buoyant Fulham to St James’ Park on Saturday after the Cottagers scored 10 without reply in their last two games. By contrast, Newcastle have lost their last three amid a worsening injury crisis.

They will also be missing Kieran Tripper for the first time in the Premier League since the start of last season. His recent form suggests a break might do him some good but Howe admits Newcastle will miss the right-back who has become ‘part of our biggest attacking threat’.

However he does it, the manager has to rouse those players he has available to arrest this ropey run ahead of the festive programme and a Carabao Cup trip to Chelsea, with domestic cup runs once again high on Howe’s agenda.

 

Manager to watch – Sean Dyche
Amid the fire and fury over their 10-point deduction, one thing seems to have flown somewhat under the radar: Everton aren’t bad. Actually, they are quite good.

The Toffees, these days, are deliciously Dyche. Amid a Premier League chockful of sides seemingly intent on playing a similar way, despite a few being ill-suited to such a style, Everton are unashamed. Win it; get it wide; put on Big Dom’s head.

There’s more to it than that, of course, but Dyche sees no need to overcomplicate matters. And there is beauty in simplicity. Everton are one of the Premier League’s form sides, despite being stripped of hard-earned points.

Dyche returns on Saturday to where he honed those methods. He goes back to Burnley where fans will still drink in the pub named in his honour, but the team bears little resemblance to those they watched embark – briefly – on a European tour.

Vincent Kompany’s is a work in progress but home fans at Turf Moor would be forgiven for longing for what they once had if Everton continue their recent form.

Read more: Dyche returns to his Turf Moor proving ground with Everton flying and his stock higher than ever

 

Player to watch – Brennan Johnson
Dyche isn’t alone in returning to his former home with a spring in his step. Johnson goes back to Nottingham Forest on Friday night perhaps to pile on the misery for one of the men who made him.

Few had a greater impact on Johnson than Steve Cooper. The Forest boss put his faith in the young striker as soon as he took over at the City Ground and the pair enjoyed two fruitful seasons together, Johnson’s goals being considerable factors in Forest’s promotion and subsequent survival.

Forest had little choice but to sell Johnson this summer and there is no doubt they and Cooper have suffered for his absence. Indeed, the 22-year-old and his Tottenham team-mates could hammer the final nail in Cooper’s Forest coffin.

Celebrations probably won’t get more muted than Johnson’s if he scores against his boyhood team but familiar surroundings could help him to feel more at home in his new side. The forward is still getting up to speed at Spurs, but he looks tailor-made for Ange-ball and his performance against Newcastle last week offered further encouragement.

 

EFL game to watch – Ipswich v Norwich
The first East Anglian derby in almost five years takes place at Portman Road on Saturday lunchtime with Ipswich looking for their first win over their local-ish rivals since 2009.

Norwich are a dozen derbies without defeat but that streak will be sorely tested when David Wagner’s mid-table dwellers go to their high-flying rivals. Town, the Championship’s highest scorers, have won their last eight at home; City have lost six of their last nine away.

Wagner, though, will take encouragement from Norwich’s record of having scored in their last 13 trips to Portman Road as well all 13 road trips this term. It won’t be dull, and there will be goals.

Bayern Munich striker Harry Kane and Stuttgart forward Serhou Guirassy.

European game to watch – Bayern Munich v Stuttgart
The same can reasonably be predicted of second versus third in the Bundesliga on Sunday night when Harry Kane and Serhou Guirassy come face to face amid a battle to keep up with Bayer Leverkusen.

Between them, the strikers have 36 league goals already this term, Kane two ahead of Stuttgart striker having played a game more. Kane got his big move in the summer; Guirassy is playing for his in January.

Beyond the battle of the strikers, this is huge for both sides, with Leverkusen able to pull seven clear at the summit when they host Eintracht Frankfurt, who battered Bayern last week, a couple of hours before kick-off at the Allianz Arena.