Gary Neville’s final article in the Telegraph before taking over at Valencia outlined the style of football he would pursue if he were a manager. High tempo, pressing, fast, direct, expressive. Qualities we used to associate with his old club Man United.
El Nev also put forward Mauricio Pochettino as a role model. None of this will do LVG any favours. The natives are restless at Old Trafford, no longer a Theatre of Dreams but an ideal place for an afternoon snooze. Envious glances might be cast beyond their noisy neighbours in the coming months, to Liverpool, Tottenham and perhaps ultimately Valencia.
To business. This week’s fun and games begin at The Britannia, where City take their stellar cast of super-duper-stars down to earth…
12.45 Stoke v Man City
City showed something like the form they are capable of v Southampton last week, in the opening half hour at least. And hit another four past Hull in the Cup midweek, but have become flaky (as per tradition) when asked to cope with Champions League distractions. Silva is back and possible Aguero too. Stoke struggle for goals – just three in their last six, despite tidy form.
Score Prediction: A tight squeak. 0-1
MVP Prediction: Kevin De Bruyne has scored in four of City’s last five wins.
15.00 Arsenal v Sunderland
Injuries and their natural moodiness has put Arsenal in their worst form of the season. Just two wins in seven (all comps) and a string of influential absentees - including Cazorla, Coquelin, Sanchez and possibly Walcott and Koscielny – will wobble confidence. As will Sunderland’s two wins from two, with clean sheets to boot!
Score Prediction: A wobbly win. 2-1
MVP Prediction: Olivier Giroud has six in ten.
15.00 Man United v West Ham
It’s lumpen, it’s flat, it’s dull. But it is effective. United have the best home record in the PL, conceding just a single goal en route to four wins from six. West Ham took scalps for fun earlier in the season, but are pining for playmaker Payet. They are four without a win and also missing the goal threat of Valencia and Sakho.
Score Prediction: One should probably do it. 1-0
MVP Prediction: Another sheet for Chris Smalling.
15.00 Southampton v Aston Villa
Southampton will want a reaction from the 1-6 thumping at home to Liverpool in the Cup. But if THAT was a reaction to their 1-3 thumping at City, or the 0-1 slump at home to Stoke, they could be in trouble. Villa ARE in trouble. One-point-from-27 trouble. They need something, anything here.
Score Prediction: But can’t see it. 2-0
MVP Prediction: Sadio Mane is a wanted man. And January is just around the corner…
15.00 Swansea v Leicester
Difficult to know what has happened at Swansea since beating Man United back in August. The style, the approach and the faces remain the same. But all brows are now furrowed as results are going awry. They’ve lost three of their last four, failing to score in those defeats. They won’t be looking forward to seeing Jamie Vardy and co.
Score Prediction: Another win, another goal fest. 2-3
MVP Prediction: Seriously? Give him the armband. Jamie Vardy
17.30 Watford v Norwich
Hats off to Watford. They have found their level and are completely consistent – not a single point from teams in the Top seven, unbeaten against the rest of the PL. Three draws, two wins v the Middle Six. Three wins, one draw v the Bottom Six. Norwich have lost five in seven and face Everton, Man United and Tottenham before New Year. Ouch.
Score Prediction: Watford v Bottom Six = 2-0
MVP Prediction: Odion Ighalo is still worth his place in your PL.com team.
15.00 West Brom v Tottenham
Pochettino is apparently going to be the model for Gary Neville’s management style. He’s certainly worthy of it at the moment. Unbeaten in 13, Tottenham have added goals – averaging 2.4 a game in their last eight (including two blanks). West Brom have the worst home defensive record in the PL but did beat Arsenal in their last outing.
Score Prediction: But can’t see a repeat here. 1-2
MVP Prediction: Harry Kane is the obvious choice.
17.30 Chelsea v Bournemouth
Whisper it, but there are green shoots of recovery appearing at Chelsea. Three clean sheets in a row (all comps) suggest a sense of calm might be restored. Not so for Bournemouth. A run of four defeats ended with three points tossed away at Swansea. Then a point had to be retrieved from the bin at home to Everton. Looking grim at the seaside this winter.
Score Prediction: Back to something like normal. 2-1
MVP Prediction: Willian has been Chelsea’s leading light.
16.00 Newcastle v Liverpool
Liverpool hit three at Chelsea, four at City, then Six at Southampton… We know football is not an exact science but anyway you wrap it, this looks like a world of pain for Newcastle. Only the freakish 6-2 win at home to Norwich and impossibly flukey win at Bournemouth has kept Newcastle in with a chance of PL survival. Liverpool and Klopp meanwhile look like a marriage made in Heaven.
Score Prediction: Oh dear. 0-3
MVP Prediction: Daniel Sturridge is back!
20.00 Everton v Crystal Palace
Perhaps surprisingly Everton are remarkable consistent at home. They lose to the Top Four, draw with Mid-table and beat the Bottom Half. Palace don’t do draws (the 0-0 at Man United is the only one this season), but are similarly reliable. They lose at Top Four, win everywhere else. So where does that leave us? Not sure.
Score Prediction: So I’ll go 1-1
MVP Prediction: Can’t look past Romelu Lukaku right now.
That’s how it looks from here…
Until next time.
Matt Nesbitt’s short, unspectacular but joyful playing career has given way to a much longer, more successful but immeasurably more rubbish one writing about football and providing betting advice. Email: Matt Nesbitt