We’re buzzing for Big Ange versus Klopp on Saturday night, while Kalvin Phillips faces the biggest weekend of his Man City career…
Game to watch – Tottenham v Liverpool
It won’t have escaped your notice that we bloody love Ange Postecoglou here at F365, almost as much as Tottenham fans do. One very smitten kitten occupies the overlap in that Venn diagram, and it’s lovely – if slightly unnerving – to see Tickers so happy in a love so pure. He’s convinced us all: Spurs are going to win the league, mate.
Maybe; probably not really. But at this perilously early stage in the Ange-ball revolution, Spurs look like one of the few teams capable of getting close enough to Manchester City to at least choke on some of their dust. On Saturday, they take on a similarly well-placed unbeaten side, a week after going to the other one and securing a 2-2 draw in the north London derby.
That was seen as the biggest test of Postecoglou’s approach, one they passed, if not with flying colours, certainly with distinction. What does that tell us ahead of Liverpool’s visit? F*** all really.
Because we already know how Spurs will approach these games against the clubs they can now, once again, consider as rivals – in exactly the same way they would Sheffield United or Luton. So Liverpool will know exactly what awaits them at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Will they be ready for it?
The Reds haven’t been ready for many of their opponents this season. They have fallen behind in five of their last seven matches – but still won all of them. The ridiculous firepower at Jurgen Klopp’s disposal means they will clock up six months unbeaten on Sunday if they avoid defeat on Saturday evening. Whether they do or they don’t, it ought to be a thriller.
Team to watch – Everton
Are Everton… good?
Their last two games suggest they might be. The Toffees went to Brentford last Saturday evening with little expectation of a first Premier League win, but that was their reward for by far their best performance of the season. Then they went to Aston Villa, where they had been battered 4-0 last month, and bettered it.
The Brentford performance was a shock coming six days after they gave Arsenal their easiest ride in years at Goodison, and Villa was a surprise because Everton don’t do consistency. At least not the positive sort.
The visit of Luton on Saturday offers Sean Dyche’s men the opportunity to dispel that notion, among all the other theories Everton fans are currently daring to rethink after watching their team turn it on across all departments this week.
Dare Dyche play Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Beto together? That would have been the clamour from the Gwladys Street End but the last week suggests there is no need. For the first time in a long time, Everton aren’t broken, so Dyche will see no need to apply a fix.
Cue: Everton 0-1 Luton.
Player to watch – Kalvin Phillips
The England midfielder knows the score: “It’s probably the biggest week or so in my Man City career.”
Phillips wasn’t wrong when he spoke last Saturday evening, having watched Rodri fall into Forest’s trap and earn himself a daft red card that ruled him out the Carabao Cup trip to Newcastle as well as Premier League fixtures against Wolves and Arsenal.
The ex-Leeds star made only his fifth City start at St James’ Park as they tumbled out of the Carabao Cup, as they did on his first start at Southampton last season. The only other time he was named in Pep Guardiola’s XI with something at stake was against Bristol City in the FA Cup.
It doesn’t take much reading between lines to conclude that Pep doesn’t much rate Phillips. As a bloke, he’s a big fan. But as a holding midfielder, the £42million signing is way down the pecking order – though Phillips would claim, with some justification, that he hasn’t had a proper chance to show that he can hack it in City’s engine room.
Did he do enough at Newcastle to earn a start on Saturday at Wolves? “Absolutely. Everyone has the chance,” said Guardiola. “He played really good. Really, really good. It is not easy when you have a lack of rhythm, a lack of tempo and minutes.”
You can read into that whatever you wish to. But two things are more clear: if Phillips is in the XI, he needs the performance of his City career. And if he’s not, he’s cooked.
Manager to watch – Paul Heckingbottom
It was a big weekend last week for the Sheffield United boss. Already under pressure, he watched his side capitulate to lose 8-0 at home to Newcastle. Now the heat really is on.
The Blades will have you believe it is not, but Heckingbottom desperately needs a result at West Ham, or just something positive to cling to while Chris Wilder continues to be linked with his job.
One comfort for Heckingbottom is that his players seem to be behind him. Apparently, they fought his cause with the club’s hierarchy in the immediate aftermath of the Toon tonking, but that won’t matter for much if they cave again in east London.
Those players owe a big performance to Heckingbottom, who has to find a way to firm his side up and make them harder to beat. There were signs before last weekend’s shambles that the Blades could cut it with the big boys, with City and Spurs relying on late goals to edge 2-1 victories in two of the three games prior to Newcastle, and they should have won the other against Everton. But that encouragement will have evaporated if Heckingbottom can’t inspire his side against West Ham, especially with Arsenal and Manchester United among their next three opponents.
EFL game to watch – Southampton v Leeds
There’s a game a day on the box from the Championship over the weekend, with rock-bottom Sheffield Wednesday hosting Sunderland on Friday night, and top-of-the-table Leicester going to Blackburn on Sunday at midday.
Sandwiched in between, at Saturday lunchtime, Leeds make the trek to Southampton with nine places but only three points separating two of last season’s top-flight chumps.
Saints started well, winning three of their first four games, drawing the other 4-4. Then they lost 5-0 at Sunderland and they haven’t fully recovered since, losing three more to Leicester, Ipswich and Boro.
Leeds were rather slower out of the blocks but they have only lost once, in the second game of the season to a late penalty at Birmingham, winning three of their last five, keeping clean sheets in the other two draws.
After a fraught summer, optimism abounds at Elland Road for the first time post-Marcelo Bielsa, with Daniel Farke’s side seemingly having turned a corner, while Southampton have to get off the road they are careering down, not only for their promotion prospects but also for the sake of Russell Martin’s job. Saints’ style will take time to implement but Martin won’t get it if his players keep conceding daft goals.
European game to watch – RB Leipzig v Bayern Munich
Bayern may have taken their rightful place at the top of the Bundesliga, thanks in no small part to Harry Kane’s flying start in Bavaria, but it’s tight, with only one point separating the top five.
One of the five sides who could leapfrog Bayern this weekend are RB Leipzig, who will host the champions on Saturday evening. And Leipzig ought to be full of themselves after spoiling Kane’s debut with a 3-0 win at Bayern in the Supercup to kick off the campaign. That followed a 3-1 win for Leipzig at the Allianz Arena in the penultimate game of last season that would have seen Borussia Dortmund become champions had their arse not fallen out on the final day.
But Leipzig are yet to face Kane in full flow. He emerged from the bench for that Supercup defeat on the day his signing from Spurs was confirmed, but since then, the England striker has caught fire. He’s scored seven goals in his first five Bundesliga games, becoming the first Bayern player to do so, with only Erling Haaland ever having started better.