There are five all-Premier League Carabao Cup third-round ties this week, including Chelsea against Brighton, and Newcastle versus City, while Aaron Ramsdale has a shift as Arsenal’s cup keeper…
Game to watch – Chelsea v Brighton
The last thing Mauricio Pochettino or Todd Boehly needs right now is a visit from Brighton, all smug and immaculately run, amid whatever existential crisis Chelsea are going through right now.
The Blues lost again at the weekend, leaving Pochettino’s side languishing in 14th place in the Premier League table having lost three of their six games. They are lucky that Manchester United’s own crisis has hogged the media spotlight but if the Red Devils start getting their sh*t together, Chelsea will find the glare fixed on them and the reasons why – after spending a billion quid – they are still this bad.
No club has banked more of that cash than Brighton, with Chelsea seemingly of the view that the Seagulls’ success can be replicated just by taking their manager, coaches and players. It hasn’t worked. Brighton have played Chelsea for the patsies they are, all the while continuing their ascent at home and in Europe.
This being the Carabao Cup, Pochettino might have hoped to rotate but injuries and their continuing struggles mean that Chelsea need all the practice they can get. There will be some changes, in goal, at right-back, and up front, but the Blues will have to go strong against a Brighton side who have already shown they can rotate their minutes without their standards slipping. Roberto De Zerbi has European football to concern himself with – Pochettino doesn’t.
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Team to watch – Manchester United
Likewise, Erik ten Hag can’t make too many changes for Tuesday night’s clash with Palace. Mainly because injuries have ravaged his squad, but also due to the overwhelming need to build on Saturday’s win at Burnley.
That hard-fought triumph showcased a willingness to suffer that many doubted United possessed. Next comes the consistency, which seems an even more distant concept.
The visit from Palace is the first of two in five days, with the Eagles back at Old Trafford on Saturday. That is one of three games against opposition lower than themselves in the Premier League table, around two Champions League clashes with Galatasaray and Copenhagen.
It is a run that gives the Red Devils the opportunity to lift the clouds over Old Trafford – or brace for a worsening storm.
At least some of Ten Hag’s missing stars should be back to get some minutes, with Sofyan Amrabat expected to make his first start following a brief appearance at Turf Moor. At the back, Lord only knows who the manager might have available, with Sergio Reguilon and Jonny Evans having to be replaced at the weekend.
Manager to watch – Eddie Howe
The Newcastle boss has a balancing act to perform ahead of their first taste of Carabao since losing the final to Manchester United.
The Toon are buoyant after smashing eight past Sheffield United on Sunday, but after the Premier League’s worst team, they face Europe’s best when Manchester City go to St James’ Park. Or rather, a version of Manchester City.
“I’m not going to waste one per cent of energy for Carabao Cup,” said Pep Guardiola referring to his first-team regulars, suggesting Newcastle will face a second-string City side. Though they are in the Champions League, Howe is not yet in a position to be so sniffy.
After losing to United in March, it’s been something like 427 years since Newcastle won a trophy. As much fun as the San Siro was, and however important keeping their place in the Champions League might be, last season’s trip to Wembley highlighted the appetite for silverware on Tyneside.
No cup run should be tossed away and even if City won’t be at full strength, Howe’s intention to end the club’s trophy drought should be evident in his selection.
Player to watch – Aaron Ramsdale
Despite Mikel Arteta’s talk about dual No.1s, the reality is that Ramsdale has been relegated to the role of Arsenal’s cup keeper. Assuming he gets the nod over David Raya for the clash with the Spaniard’s former club.
Ramsdale finds himself in a perilous position, not entirely of his making. The England keeper is now fighting a losing battle for a place that prior to Raya’s arrival looked as safe as any goalkeeper’s in the Premier League.
His problem is that now, to reclaim what he sees as his rightful place, Ramsdale needs to impress and prove he can do whatever it is Arteta has seen in Raya. Which is dangerous territory for a goalkeeper. Stoppers cannot manufacture moments like their outfield team-mates can.
Ramsdale needs to play his natural game and keep his mind as clear as possible to avoid making poor decisions and making a bad situation worse. Otherwise he’ll be confined to the bench as a cheerleader for the bloke who’s replaced him.
European game to watch – Ajax v Feyenoord
De Klassieker kicked off – in every sense – on Sunday afternoon. It will conclude behind closed doors on Wednesday afternoon.
With the hosts 3-0 down at the Johan Cruyff Arena, the officials abandoned the game after 55 minutes as the home fans, with flares and fireworks, vented their fury at their club’s current predicament: a run that has seen them win only once in their four Eredivisie games so far, with that streak set to extend when they play out the remaining 25 minutes against Feyenoord in midweek.
That decision alone has p*ssed off Ajax, Feyenoord and Volendam, who were originally due to take on the Amsterdammers on Wednesday night, relishing the prospect of catching them at a bad time. Indeed, Ajax and Volendam are considering legal action against the KNVB who feel the game should be ‘decided on the pitch… in the shortest possible time’.