Date published: Tuesday 17th January 2023 7:59 – Ian Watson
It’s hardly a packed midweek programme but there is plenty riding on the Premier League and FA Cup action. Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola and Jesse Marsch could all use a boost…
Game to watch – Manchester City v Tottenham
Just what Tottenham need after that: a trip to the champions, one of two meetings with City in their next three games.
Amid the misery of derby defeat, there is some cause for optimism ahead of those matches against Pep Guardiola’s men. Tottenham beat City twice last season. But if somehow they rally themselves to repeat that trick they risk serving Arsenal the title on a plate. If Spurs win, they lose.
Not that Antonio Conte can or would think of it that way. The consolation to take from Sunday is that Arsenal are no longer on their radar this season. Both derbies have been played and lost; now Conte’s only focus is salvaging something from a season so Spursy. And perhaps his job – in the short term at least – since there appears little to f*ck all chance that the Italian will remain at his post for next season.
Conte said he was ‘not disappointed’ with the performance against Arsenal, but it was a display that must have infuriated the manager. Spurs had no control over any part of the game, even in the second half when, as they so often do, Spurs belatedly turned up. By then, the second coat of red was already drying over north London.
Perhaps this game comes at a bad time for City too. They are also coming off the back of a derby defeat, and other managers would doubtless attribute that to a refereeing injustice. But Pep won’t.
City have managed one shot on target in their last two matches, which is the kind of statistic that will keep Guardiola awake at night between the derby and welcoming Spurs. After exiting the Carabao Cup at Southampton last week, skipper Ilkay Gundogan acknowledged that “something’s off”. He elaborated: “At the minute, there’s a special recipe missing. Performances, the desire and hunger is not as in recent years.”
The concern for Guardiola is that it is not just one ingredient missing. At St Mary’s it was their mentality. At Old Trafford, it was a lack of potency up front. Guardiola felt the first problem was remedied at the weekend. Now we wait to see how he fixes the second.
READ: Manchester City stutters leave Pep Guardiola facing a conflation of questions
Team to watch – Liverpool
As poor as City have been, they certainly haven’t been as wretched as Liverpool.
The Reds were so poor at the weekend that Jurgen Klopp struggled to recall a worse performance. Not just in his Liverpool reign – the manager could not remember being part of a more calamitous clusterf*ck in his whole career.
The sight of Klopp saying sorry to the travelling support, putting his hands together by way of apology when normally his fists would be pumping, was a tough watch for Liverpool fans. Tougher than the 90 minutes they had just endured? Probably.
At least the players aren’t left to wallow all week, not when there is an FA Cup replay at Wolves to gee themselves up for. Which they must, because the hosts will be bang up for it.
They were at Anfield where they were robbed. Wolves, and Liverpool, should have a free week but a VAR shambles denied Julen Lopetegui’s men the winning goal their performance merited last week.
Liverpool were poor then but not as dreadful as they were at Brighton. Klopp and captain Jordan Henderson both called the defeat ‘a real low point’ but the fear at Anfield, especially if the void in their midfield isn’t addressed, is that we don’t know yet how low they will go. At Wolves, Liverpool have to ensure that Brighton was rock-bottom.
😬 Liverpool are conceding an average of 1.39 goals per game in the Premier League this season
👀 In the Premier League last season, they conceded an average of 0.68 goals per game
They only need to concede 1 more goal to level the total scored against them last season pic.twitter.com/diEUd06aI3
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 16, 2023
Player to watch – Wout Weghorst
Manchester United’s new No.27 was at Old Trafford to watch the derby on Saturday and the big Dutchman will have seen nothing to deter him from the goal of playing the remainder of the season as the Red Devils’ first-choice centre-forward.
Weghorst is likely to make his United debut on Wednesday at Crystal Palace with his only competition, Anthony Martial, once again unable to carry the load, physically, technically or mentally, of leading the line for Erik ten Hag.
Martial was replaced at half-time in the derby after playing 45 minutes in which he was apparently unfit. With the Frenchman it’s hard to tell. “He’s fit so he plays,” said Ten Hag upon announcing his starting striker, but Martial was so clearly unable or unwilling – again, hard to decipher which – to carry out even his core responsibilities.
All of which gives Weghorst the opportunity he’s dreamed about. The initial bemusement over the deal seems to have cleared and given way to optimism over what the 6’6″ striker might offer United. Ten Hag’s success rate with his other recruits bodes well for Weghorst, who might not Harry Kane or Victor Osimhen, but he couldn’t do worse than Martial.
Manager to watch – Jesse Marsch
Leeds’ performance at Aston Villa last Friday was simultaneously good enough to be labelled the “most complete performance” of his reign by Marsch, yet bad enough for some of the travelling support to call for the manager to go. Who was right?
Both, probably. Which makes Leeds the dizzying head f*ck they are. Marsch’s side have many very apparent qualities, but their flaws are equally obvious and, right now, more prominent, leaving the Yorkshiremen in another relegation fight.
The problem for Marsch is the moments. Leeds’ season is littered with good performances spoiled by mistakes and sometimes misfortune. Those moments occur so often, though, that at some point the manager will have to carry the can for the structural flaws that lead to such outcomes.
Some Leeds fans have already made up their minds over Marsch and many will concur should they fail to progress past managerless Cardiff in their FA Cup third-round replay. Perhaps with their new record signing in attack, Marsch must mastermind a f***-up free performance and result.
Read more: Premier League winners and losers features Rashford stepping up for Ronaldo-less Man Utd
European game to watch – AC Milan v Inter
The big European leagues take a breather in midweek. There is plenty of Copa Del Rey and Coppa Italia action but we’ll point you instead towards the Italian Charity Shield.
The Supercoppa Italiana takes Inter and Milan to Saudi Arabia for a derby clash that the Rossoneri might welcome as a breather from their domestic troubles right now.
Milan have drawn their last two Serie A games 2-2, firstly chucking away a two-goal lead against Roma before having to come from behind after giving Lecce their own at the weekend. Sandwiched between those draws was a Coppa Italia defeat to 10-man Torino.
Inter closed the gap on their second-placed city rivals to a point by beating Verona 1-0. Both teams have already won before the kick-off, with the two clubs making £3million apiece just by being in Saudi. But Milan could certainly use a morale boost in addition to the cash injection.
Man Utd new boy Wout Weghorst feels like he has unfinished business in the Premier League and is determined to help bring success to Erik ten Hag’s side.
The Mailbox insists sportswashing doesn’t exist. And if it does, it definitely doesn’t work. Also: some context from a Wednesday fan over their Hillsborough stadium…
Incoming Man Utd striker Wout Weghorst will bring “a real amount of physique” to Erik ten Hag’s attacks, according to Marcel van der Kraan.
Man Utd have made a breakthrough in their pursuit of Wout Weghorst by agreeing to pay a compensation fee to Besiktas, according to reports.
Wout Weghorst will not be Manchester United’s striker for the next four years; he just needs to be their back-up striker for the next four months.
Weghorst is a “short-term fix” for Manchester United, who owe a hell of a lot of money for players they’ve already signed.
Date published: Tuesday 17th January 2023 7:59 – Ian Watson