How long is it since Man Utd went to Liverpool confident of turning over their arch-rivals? And would Graham Potter survive the fall-out from a Chelsea defeat to Leeds? Here’s the lowdown ahead of another Super Massive Big Weekend…
Game to watch – Liverpool v Man Utd
The relentless reds against the waning super power. That’s how these clashes have been framed in recent seasons and the same applies this weekend. But with the roles very much reversed.
Jurgen Klopp’s mentality monsters have suffered something of an existential crisis this season, while Erik ten Hag has turned a dysfunctional rabble into winners and believers once more. The contrast between the two giants has been stark ahead of a huge clash at Anfield.
That said, Liverpool have an opportunity to make their top-four rivals ‘smell their breath’ this weekend. They sit sixth, six points off fourth-placed Tottenham with a game in hand, and with Newcastle facing Manchester City, there may well be an opportunity to leapfrog the choking Magpies into fifth.
Anyone who has watched Liverpool of late might reasonably wonder how the f*** they have positioned themselves in touching distance of a Champions League place they so desperately need. The Reds have spent much of 2023 going through the motions while everyone outside Anfield speculates over which area of their team is most in need of ripping apart and rebuilding.
But in spite of some seriously shonky defending, Liverpool, with a different centre-back pairing in each one, have managed to put together a run of four Premier League clean sheets – we’ll park the Champions League capitulation to Real Madrid – while taking 10 points from 12. Klopp’s side have, for the most part, failed to impress but it seems they are building up some momentum.
They have, though, some way to go to match United’s charge. Ten Hag’s Red Devils have lost one in their last 20, a single-goal defeat to leaders Arsenal, since which they’ve won nine and drawn two. They ought to go to Anfield really fancying themselves to win for the first time in seven years and three managers.
We know what to expect from United, which is a compliment to Ten Hag. From Liverpool, a lot less so. Whatever they serve up, it’ll be a must-watch.
Team to watch – Newcastle
Many Newcastle fans have spent the week revelling in their flag-waving prowess while telling anyone who might listen how well they are doing just to be in a final and top-four contention. All of which may be fair. But there is no escaping that the Toon are in the midst of a worrying wobble while putting at risk their tangible progress this season.
Few expected them to make a credible challenge for the top four but that is what Eddie Howe has prompted from his players. An earlier-than-anticipated Champions League place is in jeopardy, however, regardless of how much you believe they have over-performed.
That certainly hasn’t been the case in 2023. Newcastle have won four in 12 since Boxing Day and three of those came in the Carabao Cup which went to waste when they were turned over last Sunday. Their only win in seven Premier League games came against Fulham in mid-January. No longer do they look impenetrable at the back and, in attack, they have been shut out in five of their last seven.
Howe must find answers amid the hangover from Wembley because Newcastle, right now, are wasting a glorious opportunity. Speaking of blowing big chances…
Manager to watch – Graham Potter
Could the Chelsea manager survive a defeat to Leeds at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon?
The Blues, publicly and off the record, have backed their manager since he was appointed, insisting he will be judged in years rather than months. But that support from the board seems to be waning and many fans have already reached their conclusion.
Chelsea welcome Leeds having won just two of their last 15 in the Premier League. After spending a mega-f***-tonne of money in the transfer market, there is a chance they could end the weekend in 11th.
The sight of a Chelsea-less top half of the table may exhaust what patience Todd Boehly and his buddies profess to have, especially if Stamford Bridge turns on Potter more vociferously this weekend. If that doesn’t do it, failing to overturn a deficit to Borussia Dortmund in midweek might.
Player to watch – Neal Maupay
Sean Dyche continues to back the Everton striker, but in the absence of many alternatives, the new Toffees boss has little choice.
Maupay has one goal and one assist in 20 games since joining Everton for around £15million in the summer. His single strike came in September; the last time he laid one on was before the World Cup in a 4-1 Carabao Cup defeat at Bournemouth.
Before his toothless display at Arsenal on Wednesday, Dyche insisted that the goals will flow as long as Maupay continues to get in the right areas. “You get in there often enough, one will go in,” said the manager, presumably more in hope than expectation. “It goes in and it releases the weirdness of it and the noise of it, then you’re off and running.”
The problem with Maupay is he needs to get in those areas more often than perhaps Everton are equipped to find him. He has been owned by his xG each season he has played in the Premier League – though last campaign at Brighton only marginally – and the stats suggest he ought to be on at least four goals when he has contributed just one to Everton’s cause.
The “weirdness” and “noise” around Everton’s lack of potency doesn’t just affect Maupay but as their recognised striker, the burden falls on him again at Forest on Sunday when the Toffees need to claw their out of the bottom three and reel Forest back into the relegation mire.
EFL game to watch – Blackburn v Sheffield
You can start your weekend with Hull versus West Brom on Friday night but the Championship’s big game of the weekend falls on Saturday lunchtime when fourth-placed Rovers host the promotion-chasing Blades.
Both sides are high on themselves right now after each pulled off a shock in the FA Cup. Blackburn were better than Leicester while giving Brendan Rodgers something to worry about on Tuesday, the day before United turned over Tottenham at Bramall Lane.
Both managers might point to this game as being more important for their long-term ambitions, with Rovers keeping third-placed Boro in their sights all the while checking their shoulder for a trio of teams who could leapfrog them this weekend. The Blades just have to keep chugging along, with Burnley almost out of sight, 12 points clear at the summit, as Paul Heckingbottom’s men look to maintain their seven-point cushion in the automatic promotion spots.
European game to watch – Roma v Juventus
We are deep into Jose Mourinho’s third season at Roma and he’s playing the hits. And some new ones too.
History tells us this is when things start to interesting and, true to form, Jose has recently been given his third touchline ban and p*ssed off Lazio by booing an Under-14 player while apparently urging Roma’s kids to pretend they had cramp. Never change, you glorious b*stard.
That was before he was sent from the touchline on Tuesday when Roma lost to Cremonese, who hadn’t won in 23 prior matches. The fourth official has evidently had enough of his sh*t, seemingly telling Mourinho: “Go home… everyone is taking the p*ss out of you.”
That has prompted Mourinho to threaten legal action against his latest enemy, who just so happens to be from Turin, all the while his Roma side have to prepare for a clash with Juventus as their top-four hopes hang in the balance.