Big Weekend: Dyche’s Everton v Arsenal, Chelsea, Jurgen Klopp, Son Heung-min, Milan derby
It’s a biggie for Everton, under new management but the same inept owners, against the best team in the country right now. We also get to see the new Chelsea in derby action, while Jurgen Klopp patches up Liverpool and Spurs hope Son Heung-min is back for good…
Game to watch – Everton v Arsenal
‘The worst run club in the country’ hosts the Premier League’s slickest operation on Saturday lunchtime. It ought not to even be a contest. Even accounting for the fact Everton are under new management.
Sean Dyche will have to prompt an almighty new manager bounce at Goodison amid what is sure to be a fiery, conflicted atmosphere. The home fans will heartily welcome the new boss and doubtless they will get behind the underperforming team which, unfathomably, is weaker at the end of the transfer window than they were when it opened. And it was crap then.
For that reason, the board will feel Goodison’s wrath. Will any of them turn up to face it this week, or will they again make a very public point about giving the game a miss amid reports of threats to their safety? None of which they felt necessary to mention to the police.
Whether Farhad Moshiri, Bill Kenwright and co show their faces, Everton fans will stage a sit-in protest at the final whistle. Assuming they get through the game first.
We have to believe that Everton will be harder to beat, even after just five days’ training under Dyche. Christ knows they will need to be. Arsenal have ripped through many far more cohesive units this season and after resting a number of his big-hitters last weekend in the FA Cup, the Gunners will be thirsty to extend their lead at the Premier League summit to eight points before Manchester City face a far stiffer test at Spurs.
Maybe having an actual manager rather than a figurehead who was once a decent midfielder will tease a swift improvement from Everton. It almost doesn’t matter as Dyche won’t be banking on points from his first game. But he, and the home supporters, even while they focus their ire on the directors’ box, will expect his new side to make things a lot more awkward for Arsenal than they might have been expecting.
Team to watch – Chelsea
Chelsea spent more than the other four of the five big leagues in Europe combined over the last month. Now Graham Potter has to turn them into a team worthy of Todd Boehly’s extravagance.
Only Potter knows what he has planned for the west London derby with Fulham on Friday night, when Enzo Fernandez and Noni Madueke could make their Chelsea bows while Mykhaylo Mudryk is sure to be given a home debut. Given Chelsea’s predicament in mid-table and the need for a swift return on such investment, it’s not likely Potter will look to bed in the big signings gradually. Fernandez may be on the bench this weekend but he won’t be for long.
Chelsea’s injury woes in recent weeks may force Potter’s hand and the Blues can’t afford to see this derby as a chance to ease into the new era. Especially in the wake of their embarrassment at Craven Cottage only a few weeks ago when the splurge was well underway.
Fulham are currently looking down on their noisier neighbours from seventh place with a two-point cushion. Boehly will expect the west London hierarchy to be promptly re-established and excuses around injures and unfamiliarity won’t wash, especially when Champions League qualification appears crucial to his business plan.
Manager to watch – Jurgen Klopp
While Chelsea consoled themselves over their casualty list by going on a shopping spree, Liverpool restricted Klopp to just one purchase. Not a midfielder to reinforce their soft centre, or a defender to ease their injury concerns, but another forward trying to learn about pressing on the job. So the manager will have to mend and make do through to the summer.
Between now and then, Liverpool have half a Premier League season and a Champions League last-16 clash to make the best of, starting at Wolves, where Klopp has to lift the players out of their terrible funk.
The Reds weren’t so bad in the FA Cup last week. They weren’t that good either, nowhere near their capability, and they still conspired to find a new way to lose at Brighton. Then their inaction before the transfer deadline darkened the mood around Anfield even further.
Spirits and their position in the table need a lift and Liverpool can’t simply write the rest of the season off in the hope that Jude Bellingham will come along and make everything better. They are 10 points off the top four with 19 games to go. Many supporters may focus on their recruitment failings but Klopp has told us enough times that he does his best work on the training pitch rather than in the transfer market. Liverpool fans really need to see evidence of that, in their defence and midfield, at Molineux on Saturday.
Read more: Liverpool and Everton transfer sh*tshows torn to shreds as Caicedo is January window loser
Player to watch – Son Heung-min
For a number of reasons, Spurs have struggled for attacking options this season. Now, suddenly and in time for Manchester City’s visit on Sunday, they have an abundance of them.
Harry Kane has led the line almost singlehandedly, with those around him struggling for fitness, form or sometimes both. But Arnaut Danjuma was signed last week to bolster Antonio Conte’s squad and the new boy turned up just in time to see Son Heung-min rediscover his mojo at Deepdale.
Perhaps Danjuma’s arrival prompted Son to pull his finger out. Maybe he’s finally free of injury and not quite as knackered as he so evidently was. Regardless, Spurs need to hope that their lost Son is back for good.
The signs were promising against Preston last week, when Conte felt able to give Kane a rare breather. The first half was dour – this is Spurs, after all – but Son was at least the busiest of their forward players. Even that offered Conte some encouragement. But in the second half, the deftness of touch and ruthlessness in his finishing seemed to return too.
We’ll get a good idea on Sunday against the champions whether it was another false dawn against weaker opposition, just as his hat-trick against Leicester turned out to be. But with Danjuma raring to go and Richarlison fit, Son has to show that this return to form is sustainable.
Football League game to watch – Rotherham v Sheffield United
For those that prefer their action a little more Championship-y, there are alternatives to Friday’s and Saturday lunchtime’s Premier League fare…
West Brom host Coventry on Friday night, while leaders Burnley host play-off hopefuls Norwich the following day. At the same time, also on the box, is a South Yorkshire derby between the Millers and Blades.
Second-placed Sheffield United will be chuffed to focus on football now the transfer window has closed with their top players, like Sander Berge and Iliman Ndiaye, sticking around to see out their promotion push. Rotherham’s needs were different amid a relegation battle. The Millers borrowed five players and splashed out on Jordan Hugill, who is set to make his debut against the Blades.
European game to watch – AC Milan v Inter
Milan have crumbled in recent weeks. By the time the derby rolls around on Sunday evening, it’ll be a month and a day since their last win. In the meantime, they’ve exited the Coppa Italia; lost the Super Cup final to Inter; and in the league, drawn two and lost their last two, defeats to Lazio and Sassuolo in which they conceded nine goals.
That run has seen them slip to fifth in Serie A but they could leapfrog Inter, currently second, if they beat their housemates at the San Siro. With Spurs in the Champions League to come too, it promises to be a season-defining fortnight for the Rossoneri.
Of course, Inter would love to compound their rivals’ current misery but the have been scratching for form since beating Napoli in the first game after the restart. That fine work was wasted when they followed it up with a draw with Monza and a home defeat to Empoli. The title looks gone, but the top four is tight with three points separating second and sixth, adding extra spice to the derby.