Big Weekend: Chelsea v Manchester City, Erik ten Hag, depleted Spurs, Arsenal’s striker

Ian Watson
A big weekend ahead for Erik ten Hag, Mauricio Pochettino, Pep Guardiola and Ange Postecoglou.
A big weekend ahead for Erik ten Hag, Mauricio Pochettino, Pep Guardiola and Ange Postecoglou.

They are all big for Erik ten Hag and Manchester United, who are on a hiding to nothing against Luton, while Tottenham face a test unlike any so far under Ange Postecoglou…


Game to watch – Chelsea v Manchester City
After chaos must come control for Chelsea if they are to do themselves and the rest of the Premier League a favour by stopping City on Sunday afternoon.

Monday night’s win at Tottenham was great fun for most to watch, but Mauricio Pochettino will not have enjoyed large spells, especially in the second half when his players kept falling for the world’s least subtle offside trap. Eventually they found a work-around, but the Blues’ naivety won’t have impressed their manager.

Perhaps Poch will forgive his players since Spurs’ approach was so wonderfully batsh*t, anyone would have found it hard to take seriously. And, for the most part this season, Chelsea have shown that they can implement the plans laid out for them by Pochettino.

Sunday will likely be similar to the blueprint that should have seen them get the beating of Arsenal. Nicolas Jackson’s reward for the Premier League’s weirdest hat-trick might be a place on the bench while Pochettino opts for a strikerless system to choke City in the middle. Pep Guardiola could counter by going around the outside with width, particular the sort provided by Jeremy Doku, crucial to City’s prospects.

Regardless, both managers will be desperate to avoid the madness of Monday night. It is shaping up as a battle more intriguing than astounding – at least up to the inevitable point that VAR decides to be a d*ck.


Team to watch – Tottenham
Spurs received plenty of credit for their f**-it approach to playing with nine men against Chelsea. Now, though, we wait to see just how damaging that defeat might be to Ange Postecoglou and his side.

Morale is unlikely to be a problem. We don’t know yet how Spurs react to Premier League defeats because that was their first of the season. And given they were widely lauded – by their own supporters and many watching agog at home – a 4-1 home reverse isn’t expected to eat away at Spurs’ confidence.

What will be a concern is how events chipped away at their thin squad. Postecoglou lost his two starting centre-backs – one to injury, the other to insanity – as well as his left-back. With three-quarters of his back four missing, can Spurs continue in the high-pressing, even higher-pushing style that carried them unbeaten for longer than anyone else? Well, yes. Postecoglou demands it.

The manager will have a harder time replicating James Maddison’s influence. The Premier League’s most creative player suffered an ankle injury and while the duration of his lay-off is yet to be confirmed, the good news is that it is unlikely to be as long as Micky van de Ven, who was substituted at the same time during first-half added time. But Maddison’s form this season means any absence is too long.

As Postecoglou has been at pains to point out, he won’t change his approach no matter the circumstances. So we and Wolves know what to expect. Whether they can be as effective without at least three of their most important players, we wait to see.


Manager to watch – Erik ten Hag
The Manchester United boss is on a bad trip right now, but it could get a whole lot worse this weekend.

Ten Hag’s men welcome Luton to Old Trafford for the type of fixture many managers might see – if never admit, ‘no easy games’ and all that – as a chance for some respite. Indeed, just at the start of the week, it was widely thought the visit of the Hatters might conclude a week that could send the Red Devils into the international break with renewed confidence.

Then they went to Copenhagen and despite playing well for periods, once again, they caved in amid yet more moments of madness and misery. Such is their dearth of confidence and character, United simply cannot deal with setbacks.

Imagine if they go behind to Luton. Which is hardly a remote possibility if Rob Edwards’ side take the confidence they should from last weekend’s draw with Liverpool. United’s fragile mentality would struggle to recover.

Will Ten Hag survive if his team’s season reaches a new nadir on Saturday afternoon? There doesn’t seem to be much internal pressure on the manager right now – most of the noise around his job prospects is coming from those who benefit from amplifying it – but there is no question a home defeat to little Luton would make for a long and torturous international break.

What can Ten Hag do to avoid such a fate? F*** knows. There are no quick fixes to United’s problems. They have had rotten luck, sure. But inserting the backbone required to deal with such setbacks cannot be achieved in two days.


Player to watch – Arsenal’s striker
For reasons in and out of Mikel Arteta’s control, the Arsenal boss is still searching for the ‘right balance’ in his attack this season. They brushed Sevilla aside with Leandro Trossard employed as a central striker, while Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli both recovered some form after a stodgy few weeks.

Saka should be fit to face Burnley on Saturday after limping off on Wednesday night, but Arteta still has answers to find before Vincent Kompany’s Clarets attempt to frustrate their hosts at the Emirates.

Eddie Nketiah too should be available but few, least of all Arteta, seem to feel the newly-capped England international is a viable long-term option to lead their line. Gabriel Jesus has spent much of the season on the sidelines and there he will remain until at least after the international break.

If Arteta recalls Nketiah, the only specialist centre-forward needs a similar performance to that which saw him nab a hat-trick against Sheffield United. Alternatively, Trossard could be told to carry on, or Kai Havertz might be handed the opportunity to play in the only role he has impressed – fleetingly – since joining the club in the summer.

Regardless, Arteta is very much trying to make the best of it until he can move for a striker in January. Someone – Nketiah, Trossard or Havertz – needs to step up as the best short-term solution.

Kai Havertz has struggled since his big-money move from Chelsea to Arsenal.


EFL game to watch – Sunderland v Birmingham
Saturday lunchtime offers the chance to check in with Wayne Rooney when he takes his new-ish Birmingham side to Sunderland.

It hasn’t been a great start for Rooney in his new role. Three straight defeats preceded last weekend’s visit of high-flying Ipswich. Just when Rooney looked set to get his first three-point haul, Blues caved in late on to surrender a two-goal lead and take only a solitary point.

It’s a biggie too for Jobe Bellingham as he faces his former side since swapping St Andrew’s for the Stadium of Light. The 18-year-old sought to escape his brother’s shadow at his boyhood club and he has started every game so far for the Black Cats.

Also worthy of your time this weekend: the Friday night Lancashire derby between Blackburn and Preston at Ewood Park.


European game to watch – Lazio v Roma
Neither Lazio nor Roma are pulling up trees in Serie A this season. But the first Derby della Capitale of the campaign should still have more than enough spice if, for whatever reason, Chelsea versus City doesn’t grab you on Sunday evening.

Jose Mourinho has done his best to ramp up the rancour this week. Responding to some fairly meek comments from Maurizio Sarri, Mourinho spoke of “the difference in a coach who has won 26 titles and another that has barely won anything”. But Sarri’s Lazio, faring well in the Champions League, can leapfrog their Europa League-dwelling city rivals with victory this weekend.

El Gran Derbi kicks off at a similar time, with La Liga strugglers Sevilla looking to bounce back from their defeat to Arsenal when they host arch-rivals Real Betis.