Manchester kids have been making headlines all week.
City started with six teenagers v Chelsea, choosing to sacrifice the FA Cup at the altar of the Champions League. But bringing an excellent 3-1 lead back from Kiev with a fully rested senior squad has given Pellegrini one foot in the quarter finals. If he can bow out at City by taking them deeper still he will have no regrets.
Not so noisy neighbours United relied on another teen to get into the last 16 of the not so noisy Europa League. Marcus Rashford’s two-goal debut made him an instant terrace idol, inspiring a second half as exciting as anything Old Trafford has witnessed in the last couple of managers. It was like watching Manchester United!
Now, to domestic matters. We have a double Game Week to get out teeth into. Part one starts at West Ham…
12.45pm West Ham v Sunderland
Only one win in the last five PL matches for the Hammers, but they have despatched Liverpool and Blackburn (mercilessly so) in the FA Cup over that period. And sitting a measly point off the European places, no one is panicking. Sunderland aren’t either, yet. But need to maintain the momentum of four new signings, four good performances and three decent results.
Score Prediction: Could be an early coupon stopper. 1-1
MVP: Dmitri Payet just gets better.
3pm Leicester v Norwich
Oh dear. When you’re shipping goals like Norwich are – 21 in their last seven, six of which were lost – the King Power is not the place you want to launch a bid for PL survival. But they need to soon. Their Last Six form would put them bottom of the PL. Their next six form might do so too. Leicester will have had a long, hard think about the Arsenal mugging last time out. But they seem a buoyant bunch.
Score Prediction: Business as unusual. 3-0
MVP: Jamie Vardy. Obviously.
3pm Southampton v Chelsea
Southampton’s 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge in GW eight turned Chelsea’s season from ‘blip’ into a ‘crisis’. Since then it has lurched through ‘disaster’, ‘chaotic’ and resides in ‘recovery’. It could end here though. Saints haven’t conceded a goal in nine hour and 14 minutes. It’s not exclusively down to the return of the return of Fraser Forster, but it’s not a coincidence either.
Score Prediction: Chelsea don’t pack many goals when they travel. 1-0
MVP: A seventh consecutive sheet for Fraser Forster.
3pm Stoke v Aston Villa
Stoke took their narrow Capital One Cup semi-final defeat hard. It is, after all, a much more glamorous barometer of a team’s progress than their 9th – 11th place finish will be. Ryan Shawcross is a big miss, but their front players have gone missing too. Just one goal in six (all comps) before the back-on-track three at Bournemouth has cost them momentum. Villa will be welcome guests then. They’ve had 13 days to stew over their 0-6 hiding v Liverpool. Their challenge is not to completely unravel in their next dozen matches.
Score Prediction: Solid home win. 2-0
MVP: Another sheet for Jack Butland.
3pm Watford v Bournemouth
I’m always banging on about how consistent Watford are, but there is no greater thing in the wide world of football than a team that do what they are supposed to do. Whether you are watching, betting, tipping or PL.com managing. Watford (generally) beat teams in the bottom six, lose v Top Six and draw v Middle Eight. Bournemouth were punching above their weight through most of December and January, but the wheels have gone spinning in all directions since. Three limp defeats have dragged them back into a dogfight they looked like sneaking out of.
Score Prediction: Only one team outside the Top Five have won here. 2-1
MVP: Talk of Arsenal sniffing around him won’t hurt his mood. Odion Ighalo.
5.30pm West Brom v Crystal Palace
The PL starts to look safe from West Brom upwards. They are too good to go down, but still not good enough to do anything but. Their form in the last eight is as good as it has been this season – W3 D3 L2. Palace’s last eight is their worst – W0 D2 L6. The FA Cup win at Tottenham and the return of Yanick Bolasie will perk them up a bit, but they need the Emmanuel Adebayor gamble to pay off. And that is never a great position to be in.
Score Prediction: A scrappy draw. 1-1
MVP: Scott Dann has notched another five so far this season.
2.05pm Man United v Arsenal
Arsenal face four PL matches and an FA Cup replay in the next 14 days that could shape their domestic destiny, before Barcelona put the boot in at the Nou Camp. Of course, being beaten by Barca isn’t a real defeat – it’s like getting out-boxed by Ali in the 60s, or knocked out by Tyson in the 80s. It just happens. But it ramp up the pressure. United will be buoyed by a couple of wins. But beating a struggling League One team and the Danish Champions are hollow victories. More akin to kicking a puppy in a sack until it stops moving.
Score Prediction: Arsenal need this. 1-2
MVP: Alexis Sanchez was anonymous v his old mates.
2.05pm Tottenham v Swansea
Until the recent cup business, Tottenham’s seven straight wins had them looking as organised, efficient and focussed as they have done since – whisper it – perhaps the PL started! They certainly don’t look like they will be happy with fourth place. The Francesco Guidolin effect has revived the Swans from the ugly duckling they had become, with eight huge points from their last five matches. But the revival might be put on hold here.
Score Prediction: Banker of the week. 2-0
MVP: Dele Alli is playing his way into the England team.
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