In a world that is still in crisis, a world where you’re not really meant to travel from Reading to Basingstoke if you can really, really avoid it, a world where the rule of six applies everywhere in the UK other than Liverpool’s defence, a world where social distancing would have made real sense to Reece James you have to wonder the actual sense in asking footballers to fly around the world to play meaningless matches played in empty stadiums watched by nobody.
It was a concept so daft it could have been front and centre of the ‘Project Big Picture’ manifesto.
Anyway, it is over now and it’s back to the real stuff. International footballers playing in empty stadiums to millions of people (plus the few that were prepared to pay £14.99 to suffer Sheffield United vs Fulham).
Everton vs Liverpool
What actual odds would you have got on Everton being top of the Premier League by the time this fixture rocked around? Long, I tell you. Longer still would have been the odds on Liverpool getting handed a 7-2 shellacking by Aston Villa, of all people.
Ross Barkley and Jack Grealish possibly showed Everton the way to win this game – if someone like Abdoulaye Doucoure can channel his inner Chelsea-loanee and J-Rod can drop his game down to the level of Villa’s captain then DLC could get even more chances than usual.
Will Liverpool be brave enough to defend on the halfway line given that Adrian is still in goal?
We all know that the Everton title-bid is utter fantasy and the wheels are going to come off before we’re allowed to go and visit Granny for Christmas, but that does not mean that Carlo Ancelotti couldn’t make himself eternal at Goodison Park by overseeing a derby day victory.
Or, will Liverpool turn up like champions who have just been knocked down are meant to turn up? Out to prove a point, show it was a blip and remind the world who does own the city?
Hit ’em on the break you Toffees and who knows what might happen. And try to avoid them shooting at Jordan Pickford, that’ll probably help too.
Chelsea vs Southampton
Rumour has it that Frank Lampard’s Chelsea’s saving grace between the sticks, Mendy, pulled a thigh playing one of those pointless international matches meaning Lamps has to make a decision he didn’t really want to make again this season – Kepa or Big Willy in nets with either giving Ralph Hassenhuttl a lot of hope.
Project Clearance didn’t really go to plan with Chelsea still having enough players to rescue the EFL on its own if they let them all go and play for free – you remember Danny Drinkwater, right?
Southampton were savvy or stupid in the window in resigning Theo Walcott and this probably isn’t the game that will give us the answer. Their midfield signing Diallo looks very interesting, and Liverpool will no doubt be keeping an early eye on his progress.
Chelsea still look like a team who do not know exactly how to play yet – and this the reason why Southampton must have some hope. Danny Ings must fancy it against Thiago Silva +1, Ben Chilwell’s absence means someone can give Marcos Alonso another roasting and Oriol Romelu has recently announced himself as a long-range goalscorer which could be very useful if Lampard does pick Kepa.
Realistically, if Chelsea pick any three of their 37 attacking options and they click then they could run away with this easily.
But will they? Oh, the drama of the Premier League.
Man City vs Arsenal
Not that long ago, a cursory glance at this fixture would result in a nailed-on home win for Peppy G’s lot – but right now, can you be that sweeping in your claim? I’d venture not – this is by no means a guaranteed three points for the home team who, as I understand, still don’t have an actual fit striker for the visit of the Gooners.
Is Ruben Dias the answer to City’s defensive woes? Ask the back of Olivier Giroud’s head after Dias laid an early elbow on him in the recent Portugal match. Equally, will Dias even be allowed to play given Ronaldo has gone down with the dreaded virus? Mind you, apart from a few well-staged photos you get the feeling that Ronaldo self-isolates from the rest of the squad nowadays anyway.
Arsenal seem to be on to something under the stewardship of Mikel Arteta and they did, of course, spank City in the FA Cup last season where Yo-Pierre dominated. The Arsenal skipper didn’t disappear off on international duty because of ‘an ankle injury’ but, funnily enough, is expected to be available for this clash at the Etihad.
For me, this comes down to what Guardiola does in midfield – if he goes for Rodri and Fernandinho in a two in there then he pretty much asking for a repeat of the Leicester City defeat. With KDB maybe struggling following Belgium’s match at Wembley there is every chance this could be the case – imagine that, an Arsenal midfield of Xhaka and Elneny actually being backed to be stronger than City’s middlemen.
Kieran Tierney being allowed to play having followed absolutely every single damn protocol is crucial for Arteta as well – if he is allowed to play, Arsenal have that balance from the back that is starting to form nicely. If he doesn’t it could mean Luiz and Rob Holding in the same back three again – yikes.
Arsenal to get at least a draw here in my humble.
Newcastle vs Man United
Let’s be honest – Harry Maguire is currently playing football like a man in desperate need of a holiday, except the last one didn’t exactly go well for him. Maguire has been shocking since his trial, so bad that I’d even back Andy Carroll to win this weekend dual – and Carroll will probably only get 15 minutes.
United are suddenly lacking the oomph that they had after the restart – meaning Ole’s name is having mud thrown at it once again. And is that mud completely unfair? Maybe, maybe not – the initial defence of the club legend was that at least the signings he made were half decent – Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James, Bruno Fernades and Harry Maguire being cited as the evidence.
Yet, overnight, Wan-Bissaka has become unable to do this bits he was good at (defending) whilst becoming even worse at the bits he wasn’t very good at anyway (attacking). Daniel James is following in his idol Gareth Bale’s footsteps by only being seen in a Wales shirt. Bruno Fernandes only really reminds people he is there when it’s time to take a penalty and Maguire – well, we know all about that.
Is it all Ole’s fault? Of course not – Mr Ed managed to turn a one-horse race for Alex Telles into a last-minute deal for no reason whatsoever. And the Jadon Sancho debacle was, frankly, hilarious. Edinson Cavani, United fans need him to be the new Cantona and, realistically, he is going to be closer to the new Falcao.
What does this all mean for this match? United need to get their selection right. Which four defenders at the club are least out of form? Pick those ones. Has Matic become even more immobile since the last match? Probably – so pick Fred or McTominay. What can we do instead of Martial after he tickled Lamela under the nose? Well, Ighalo is supposed to be the back-up nine and if he cannot impose himself on Jamaal Lascalles then why is he even there?
As for Steve Bruce’s team – they would be sensing blood if it wasn’t Steve Bruce vs United. If they put ASM up against AWB, they might get joy. If they are brave enough to let Andy Carroll bully the United back four for the first-half, Callum Wilson could get lots of joy. And If Miguel Almiron is set loose to find space, especially if Matic is playing, Newcastle will create chances.
Is it too big a thing to say that this, the first match of seven in 21 days for United, could set the tone for whether Ole stays or goes?
Sheffield United vs Fulham
Not a lot of interest in this one, other looking forward to seeing whether Scott Parker picks all the new central defenders he has signed. Basically, we have the Premier League’s most-blunt attack versus the Premier League’s most porous defence. It’ll be 0-0 for sure.
Crystal Palace vs Brighton
And here is another opportunity for Brighton to play really nicely, yet lose 1-0 to another Hodgson masterclass. Here’s a tip – it won’t be Wilf Zaha who is the match-winner.
Spurs vs West Ham
When you look at the West Ham team, performing oh so much better since David Moyes had to work from home, I doubt you feel what they really need is yet another floaty wide player who is good on the ball.
I mean, are Pablo Fornals, Lanzini, Yarmolenko, Felipe Anderson, Antonio, Jarrod Bowen and Robert Snodgrass not options enough?
Moyes knows best though, so he’ll be delighted to add Said Benrahma (ed: if he ever passes that medical) to his ranks from Brentford – and two-fingers up to anyone that thought money would be better spent on another couple of defenders and even maybe another midfielder.
As for Spurs, could we finally see Gareth Bale on the field for the first of his nine appearances before this all gets written off as a terrible move? There is every possibility that the Welshman will play (and pull a hammy).
Harry Kane’s muscle fatigue won’t stop him playing (and scoring) and you’d expect Tottenham to continue their strong start to the season.
Could Jose be back? I mean really back?
Leicester vs Aston Villa
Two teams here who are loving their attacking football having stuck five and seven past City and Liverpool respectively in recent times.
If Ross Barkley can link up with Jack Grealish like he did last time out, then Leicester might have a few problems – given that their new teenage defender Wesley Fofana might have to start and there’s no Wilfried Ndidi to provide defensive cover.
As long as Villa can stop them slipping in Vardy, they’ve got every chance here.
West Brom vs Burnley
Every weekend has a match that I couldn’t give a single monkey about – and this is this weekend’s. Burnley are terrible. WBA are guaranteed to go down. At least Nick Pope is getting enough practice to show he is ready to take over from Jordan Pickford.
Leeds vs Wolves
Insert your own ‘surely the whole Wolves squad are in isolation’ gag here – but the game is going ahead.
Leeds have been great fun so far this Premier League season and there seems to be a top-flight striker desperately trying to escape from the body of Patrick Bamford.
Kalvin Phillips will be looking forward to playing in a coherent midfield for once and you could see Leeds picking up a big W here.
Wolves haven’t really got going yet this time out – but are still quite tough to breakdown when they are on it. The question is, will they be on it?