Big Weekend: Liverpool v Man City, Chelsea, Solskjaer, Rodrigo

Ian Watson

It’s always a biggie for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer these days. But the huge one this weekend is at Anfield where the Premier League top two meet.


Game to watch – Liverpool v Manchester City
The Premier League goes out with a bang on Sunday afternoon with the top two and the past two champions meeting at Anfield to hopefully give us something to reminisce about during the mundanity of another international break.

Pep Guardiola, though, might be glad of a breather. City are wrapping up one of the toughest weeks imaginable, with trips to Chelsea and PSG preceding a visit to Merseyside.

It’s been a mixed few days for Pep. City schooled Chelsea at Stamford Bridge before being picked off by Mauricio Pochettino and PSG. Guardiola was chuffed with how his side performed in Paris, but despite dominating the shot count, rarely did a City goal feel inevitable.

The contrast with Liverpool was stark. The Reds put five past Porto but Jurgen Klopp acknowledged that “we need to play better than we did tonight” when City go to Anfield. That said, Klopp is unlikely to make many changes, if any, especially if Trent Alexander-Arnold is still missing. The battle between James Milner and Jack Grealish will be one of the most intriguing match-ups of what should be a fascinating game.

That is assuming both sides are willing to make it that way. At this stage in the season, the obvious temptation for both managers is to settle for not losing, especially when there is a long fortnight to dwell upon it. But, thankfully for us, neither do caution particularly well and both sides have shown weaknesses the other can exploit to make it a thriller.


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Player to watch – Rodrigo
While the top two go into battle this weekend, so too do the bottom two. It’s hardly a shock to see Burnley and Norwich scrapping at the foot of the table, but it is rather more of a surprise that just above them are Leeds.

Marcelo Bielsa’s side remain winless after six Premier League games and though a dose of second-season syndrome has yet to be diagnosed, Leeds certainly don’t look as fresh and vibrant as they did last season.

So it hardly helps that they are likely to be missing their leading centre-forward again when Watford go to Elland Road on Saturday. But Patrick Bamford’s absence would allow Rodrigo to keep showing the encouraging signs we have seen from the Spaniard in recent weeks.

Against West Ham last week, Rodrigo was utilised as a false nine and certainly for the first half, the Hammers struggled to get to grips with the 30-year-old. Dropping in between lines and drifting across them, Rodrigo served as a useful pivot off which Stuart Dallas and Mateusz Klich both ran. He was unable to sustain that form as Leeds wilted, not for the first time this season, but Rodrigo at least showed that perhaps Bielsa does not have to be quite so reliant on Bamford while also offering a different option to the England centre-forward.

If Watford’s defence is in the mood to show Leeds the generosity they offered Newcastle at Vicarage Road last week then Rodrigo, and Leeds, could finally be in business.


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Manager to watch – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Every weekend, every midweek, is a big one for Solskjaer as he fights to prove that he is worthy of his office. A battle he seems to be losing.

Manchester United have not been good in recent weeks. In fact, not since the opening day, when Leeds allowed United to run through them, have we seen a performance from the Red Devils that comes close to the potential we all know they have, especially in an attacking sense. Solskjaer’s plan, which seems to be to wing it, is not getting the best of easily the best squad United have had in the post-Fergie era.

There are a number of factors shielding Solskjaer from some of the flak flying his way, aside from his status as a United legend. Firstly, United are fun. Whether they’re good, bad or indifferent, they create drama, most of it late, in keeping with the traditions at Old Trafford that we hear so much about. After years of Van Gaal and Mourinho’s own brand of Mogadon, it’s a thrilling ride.

Secondly, there is absolutely no appetite to bin Solskjaer within the boardroom. United could get turned over by Everton for their third home defeat in four and there is still no danger of the manager being axed next week.

But Solskjaer still has so much to prove, even if many have already passed judgement on the Norwegian’s coaching capabilities. Everton will be stubborn, tough to break down and quick on the break – a simple plan yet one United struggle to foil – and another disjointed performance, especially if coupled with a bad result, will see the scrutiny on Solskjaer intensify once more. Only victories and consistency will buy him some breathing space, but the manager is yet to demonstrate he knows where he can find either.


Team to watch – Chelsea
One mailboxer suggested that consecutive defeats this week was the beginning of the end for Thomas Tuchel. Which is certainly a take. It’s a take you may consider ludicrous but the Blues certainly need a performance to banish the concerns raised by two lethargic, uninspiring performances in big games against Manchester City and Juventus.

Tuchel was bested by Guardiola last week – finally – and losing to the champions represents no disgrace, even if the gulf in performance between last season’s two Champions League finalists may have caused the Chelsea boss some concern. Against Juventus, though, the Blues were all the things Tuchel cannot abide: sloppy, ponderous, naive and error-prone.

Tuchel tried to shake things up after an hour in Turin with a triple substitution featuring three homegrown players but even that injection of pace failed to wake the visitors. Tuchel is not a patient man and the removal of two senior men – Cesar Azpilicueta and Jorginho as well as Hakim Ziyech – highlighted the manager’s irritation over his side’s performance.

Given it was not a disappointment in isolation – the Blues have shown vulnerability in all games since the last international break – it will be interesting to see how Tuchel reacts when Southampton go to Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Though winless, Saints have already taken points from Manchester City and Manchester United this season and have demonstrated that they can absorb pressure for sustained periods.

We have to assume that Mason Mount will feature should he be declared fit and the England playmaker’s return should help the Blues once again relocate Romelu Lukaku. Regardless, anything but a vast improvement could see some Chelsea stars leave for the international break pondering their prospects of game time once they return.


Ronald Koeman

European game to watch – Atletico Madrid v Barcelona
At the time of writing, Ronald Koeman remains gainfully employed. Only Joan Laporta knows how

The Barcelona coach’s decision-making of late has prompted people to ponder whether he is trying to get himself sacked. There are many issues at Barca that are beyond Koeman’s control, but his tactics, selections, substitutions and public soundbites have to make you wonder whether he is doing it on purpose. Barcelona have not mustered a single shot on target through their opening two Champions League matches while shipping six goals.

Their hosts on Saturday night have hardly been vintage Atletico recently but, unsurprisingly, they still look a considerably more cohesive unit despite their early-season struggles. Koeman won’t be on the Barca bench this weekend owing to a suspension, but another miserable defeat will surely make that a longer-term arrangement when the international break offers Laporta a window to make the necessary change.


Football League game to watch – Stoke v West Brom
Four of the top five face each other this weekend with fourth-placed Coventry hosting third-placed Fulham on Saturday lunchtime, competing for your attention with Manchester United against Everton.

On Friday night, however, there is little else to distract you from fifth facing first at the Bet365 Stadium. The table-topping Baggies are back on track after three draws prompted criticism for Valerien Ismael – he hasn’t lost a Championship match since taking over at The Hawthorns.

Stoke slipped slightly off the pace on Tuesday after drawing at Preston but Michael O’Neill’s side have started the season strongly and with an undefeated home record – they’ve won all but one of their seven matches – look well placed to inflict that first defeat on Ismael’s Albion.

A full tactical preview is here.