Big Midweek: Man City v Aston Villa, Pochettino, Burnley and Jurrien Timber

Will Ford
pochettino emery guardiola timber fofana
It's a Big Midweek for Mauricio Pochettino, as Jurrien TImber returns and Man City take on Aston Villa.

Manchester City could do without another “punch in the face” from Aston Villa as Mauricio Pochettino fights for his future against Manchester United and Jurrien Timber returns for Arsenal’s title tilt.


Game to watch: Manchester City v Aston Villa
Pep Guardiola welcomed Villa’s dominant win over Manchester City in December, claiming his side needed a “punch in the face” having failed to hit the heights of their treble-winning campaign in the opening months of the season.

City attempted just two shots in that 1-0 defeat – the fewest ever by a Pep Guardiola team in a game within Europe’s big-five leagues, while the 22 shots from Aston Villa was the joint-most faced by a Guardiola side in the same period (in his 535th game).

Guardiola said he had to “change the dynamic” after Villa brought them down to earth with a bump, and they’ve not lost a game since in any competition. But it’s not been quite the ‘new year, new you’ superiority to which we’ve become accustomed, with Liverpool and Arsenal matching them stride for stride in their pursuit of the title.

City’s remaining Premier League fixtures are kind, with Villa the highest-ranked team left to play, but they’ve also got two legs against Real Madrid in the Champions League and Chelsea – whom they’ve not beaten this season – in the FA Cup semis on the horizon, and victory over Villa, having been played off the park by them earlier in the campaign, would provide a significant psychological boost.

And Villa will hope to rediscover the form they were exhibiting when they got one over on City, with the performances of late far less convincing, as they battle Tottenham for fourth.

READ: 16 Conclusions on Man City 0-0 Arsenal: Rodri, Rice, ‘League Two’ Haaland, Liverpool and Pulis the big winners


Manager to watch: Mauricio Pochettino
Chelsea’s owners want to stick with Pochettino for the rest of the season, and would ideally like him to stay beyond the summer, but defeat to Manchester United at Stamford Bridge would make his position near-untenable, and turn what has been billed as routine succession planning into more concerted efforts to source a suitable replacement.

Most of the credit Pochettino has accrued has come via his side’s displays in ‘big games’ against teams typically fighting for the top four, with his young players flourishing as underdogs when not faced with packed opposition defences and given space in behind for their speedy forwards to exploit.

Their only ‘big game’ win was the 4-1 madness against Tottenham, but the draws at home against Arsenal and Liverpool, and home and away against Manchester City, have been used as harbingers of future success and boosts for the ‘project’ which has otherwise shown very little progress.

Defeats to Brentford, Everton and Wolves have been assuaged by Pochettino showing he can set up his team to go toe-to-toe with the big boys in the minds of Todd Boehly and the Clearlake lads, on the slightly brazen assumption that wins over lesser opposition will become commonplace in time.

The fans will have a similar mindset. Tempers running high after the embarrassing draw with Burnley will be soothed by victory over United, who were by far the better team when they met at the start of December. We will also get a pretty good indication as to whether the players have indeed lost faith in the manager. If they’ve downed tools amid the fans’ displeasure, there will be no hope for Pochettino.

Pochettino Chelsea
Mauricio Pochettino is under real pressure at Chelsea.


Team to watch: Burnley
Burnley have hit a vein of form at just the right time, picking up five points from their last three having previously failed to avoid defeat in consecutive games this season. It could so easily have been nine points, with Danny Ings denying them victory over West Ham with his injury-time strike and the woodwork saving Chelsea’s blushes on Saturday.

Frustrating though that will be for Vincent Kompany, he would undoubtedly have taken draws away at the London Stadium and Stamford Bridge, particularly given his side were down to ten men for more than half the clash with Chelsea. Combined with the home win over Brentford in between, spirits must be high.

With Luton facing the daunting task of a trip to the Emirates and Nottingham Forest welcoming the Premier League’s most mercurial side in Fulham, Burnley could be one point from safety should they beat Wolves at Turf Moor. And with Everton, Brighton and Sheffield United to come in April, having seemingly been doomed to drop, the Clarets aren’t done yet.

Unable to play against parent club Chelsea on Saturday, David Datro Fofana will be back, and he’s given Burnley a far greater threat up front and could prove to be the difference-maker in a relegation dogfight.


Player to watch: Jurrien Timber
“Wow!” was the simple verdict provided by one person inside Arsenal’s US pre-season training camp, remarking on Timber’s adaptation to Mikel Arteta’s tactical demands. There will be no worries over the Dutchman’s ability to hit the ground running, as will be required for the Gunners, who face Luton in the first of nine Premier League finals, interspersed with a Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich and whatever’s to come in that competition.

Timber will be required, and based on his displays in pre-season, as well as Arteta’s assertion that he has “certain qualities that nobody else in the squad has”, he will be a starter in crucial clashes to come.

The Arsenal boss has hailed his “leadership”, “versatility” and “the quality that he has to play in different positions, especially in an attacking phase”. He is the archetypal Arteta full-back, given his ability to drift into midfield and get involved in the build-up, as well as the aggression he displays when defending one-vs-one. A Ben White upgrade, perhaps.

READ MORE: Arsenal have flipped the script after 22/23 bottlejob and summer buy (not Rice) can sway title race


EFL game to watch: Portsmouth v Derby County
It’s first vs second at Fratton Park on Tuesday, with chasers Derby more in need of a win than the hosts, who are five points clear with a game in hand, while Derby are just three points above Bolton in the race for automatic promotion.

Derby will be keeping a close eye on Colby Bishop, who got a brace in the win over Wybombe Wanderers last time out and scored a 95th-minute equaliser in the return fixture back in September.


European game to watch: Saarbrucken v Kaiserslautern
Having triumphed over Bayern Munich, Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Monchengladbach, second-tier Kaiserlautern now stand in the way of third-tier Saarbrucken and the DFB-Pokal final.

It would still be a giant-killing of sorts against four-time German champions Kaiserlautern, but we’re already thinking of the final and the chance for little old Saarbrucken preventing Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen from winning a historic treble.