THE PREMIER LEAGUE: WEEK 7 PREVIEW

The weekend is here again, the last weekend of league football just before the International break kicks in, here is my preview of the ever intriguing Premier League.

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First against Second
Tottenham Hotspurs play host to table toppers Manchester City in what is unarguably the biggest game of the weekend, Mauricio Pochettino’s men have enjoyed a fine start to this seasons’ campaign, continuing form where they stopped in the last one, in the absence of Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min has ensured the sun keeps shining at White Hart Lane with his goals and they will welcome City at this time after seeing their 100% winning record halted at Celtic in the Champions League.

For Pep Guardiola, he may have helped Raheem Sterling regain confidence which have seen him score two in his last two, but he needs to work that magic wand on his defense as they looked flat footed against a speedy Dembele. Manchester City are without their one of their best players thus far in Kevin De Bruyne and know that a win in this game will see them put some form of daylight between them and the chasing pack.
Prediction: Tottenham 1 Manchester City 1
Bolasie takes on old mates
For Everton, many wonder if their defeat at Bournemouth is the beginning of a meltdown after a fine start to the season, Manager Ronald Koeman will be hoping not. Everton host Crystal Palace in the Friday night fixture with Alan Pardew’s men stealing all three points at the last minute after going 2-nil down against Sunderland. Former Palace boy, Yannick Bolasie who has adapted well to life at the Mersey side will be hoping to continue his fine form, similar strikers in Lukaku and Benteke for both sides and the duo have showed impressive displays already, looks all set for an interesting game and Manager Alan Pardew who this week was mentioned as a likely candidate for the vacant Three Lions position will be hoping to end the week on a high
Prediction: An Everton win

Antonio-Conte
Like Hull City, Like Chelsea
Antonio Conte is under some form of pressure as Chelsea Manager in just his 7th week, after enjoying victories in his first three games with some late winners, his team have suffered back to back defeats against teams you would argue are fellow contenders for the title. For Conte, his defense is a concern as skipper John Terry remains out and Gary Cahill seems to be stuck in wonderland, the blues are away at Hull who are also desperate for a victory after successive defeats and growing indiscipline as they have collected red cards in their last outings. For Mike Phelan, he survived the predicted doom at the start of the season but all that would count for nothing if they don’t start to halt the wave of bad results.
Prediction: Chelsea should win this

Editorial use only. No merchandising. For Football images FA and Premier League restrictions apply inc. no internet/mobile usage without FAPL license - for details contact Football Dataco Mandatory Credit: Photo by Michael Zemanek/BPI/REX/Shutterstock (5505365bc) Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Liverpool played at Boleyn Ground on 2nd January 2016 in London Barclays Premier League 2015/16 West Ham United v Liverpool Upton Park, Green St, Upton Park, London, United Kingdom - 2 Jan 2016

Will the Klopp effect continue in Wales?
Swansea City host in-form Liverpool with player of the month Sadio Mane expected to continue in his fine streak. For Swansea, they were in the game for long periods against City last week till some loss of concentration and defensive naivety cost them at least a draw. Liverpool are off the back of a 5-1 mauling of Hull City and know that a win in this with Tottenham playing Manchester City could see them go second on the log.
Prediction: Swansea 1 Liverpool 3
After 3 successive defeats, is it 3 consecutive wins for Jose?
Jose Mourinho rang the changes in the game against Champions Leicester last week with captain Wayne Rooney and Maroune Fellaini dropped for Juan Mata and Ander Herrera, this paid off as the red devils made light work of the foxes in a first half performance that was almost as perfect as they come. Whilst Fellaini returned to starting lineup in the Europa cup, Rooney was again benched and this is expected to continue when Stoke City come to town.

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For Mark Hughes, it has been a horrible start to the season, his team lie 19th on the log, yet to pick a win and despite a fair number of talented individuals, look short of confidence and at times ideas, the manager would be looking for some form of spark on a ground where he had a solid career, for Jose it will be more about momentum and getting close to the leaders just before the break.
Prediction: Manchester United win
Who can stop the Gunners?
Arsenal has scored 5 goals in their last two games, games where they could easily have racked up cricket scores. The team looks to have shaken off the early season snooze and are in a no prisoners mood, Mustafi has easily fitted into the defense, Granit Xhaka is looking a fine buy in place of the injured Coquelin and going forward, Arsenal have some of the best talents in Europe with Alex Iwobi, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and a reborn Theo Walcott. Burnley have however claimed the scalp of Liverpool and an in-form Watford, so Arsene would be wary as he continues his 20th year celebration in charge of the gunners.
Prediction: Another comfortable Arsenal victory

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West Ham VS Middlesbrough
The Hammers have lost three of their last four games and whilst having steadied a leaking defense in their last game, they desperately need a win under their belt. Sitting just two positions above them is Aitor Karanka’s Boro who are also without a win since the second week, both sides could do with three points but have not been good enough for a win this season
Prediction: A draw

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Leicester City VS Southampton
The Champions bounced off the 4-1 drubbing at Old Trafford to earn a 1 nil win against Porto in the Champions league blaming the defeat to United on new league rules, they welcome the Saints to the King Power Stadium where a win is required to make some form of consistency at home. For Southampton, Charlie Austin seems to have found his form at the right time and they have not conceded in the last four.
Prediction: Leicester City to edge this
Sunderland VS West Bromwich Albion
Manager David Moyes says his defenders need to take some form of responsibility after seeing his team squander a 2 goal lead in their defeat to Crystal Palace and stay bottom of the log. He is without Adnan Januzaj for this one but will be delighted with Jermaine Defoe getting in on the goals again. Tony Pulis men seem to have steadied the ship with striker Rondon in fine form earning them a share of the spoils at Stoke.
Prediction: West Brom to at least get a point.

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Watford VS Bournemouth
High flying Watford got brought back to reality at Burnley and this week following calls from fans to see Odion Ighalo dropped after another poor showing, it will be interesting to see if manager Walter Mazzarri sticks to a player who got 17 goals in all competition last season and was a factor in the team retaining their Premier League spot or if he does a Jose and drops him. Bournemouth are off the back of an impressive win over Everton and would carry that confidence into this one.
Prediction: A score draw

#NPFLFINAL DAY 2015/16 SEASON

Sunday the 2nd of October sees the final round of games in the NPFL take place, in nine centers across the country, there will be intriguing matches but the attention of many will be glued to four major centers where the stakes are still high and will determine certain moderation to be made to various positions on the log. At the Cathedral in Enugu, Rangers are close to ending a 32 year drought, In Agege, Lagos, the God of Yahweh is expected to be physically present for the MFM lads as Ifeanyi Uba FC comes to town, In Jos, Heartland will be seeking for a major upset, while over in Warri, the Wolves will be haunting the boys from Ikorodu and hoping other results go their way, here is my preview of what is now a trending hashtag all over the social media sphere, welcome to the #NPFLFINALDAY

NPFL Final Day

The Nigeria Professional Football League is one I have done my best to avoid in the past based on a plethora of ugly reasons, this season has not been largely different but amidst the negatives, there are glaring positives portraying the good work of the League Management Company (LMC). One of these positives have to be the competitive nature of the league this season as we enter the final weekend, whilst the winner of the league is almost ascertained as Enugu Rangers are just a point away from securing the title after 32 years, the Flying Antelopes have won four of their last five games including an impressive win away at Ikorodu United in Week 37 and are expected to get the job done at home to El Kanemi Warriors, the spot for the remaining Champions league slot is still open as Rivers United who are in second place are just one point above Ifeanyi Ubah in third and three more than Wikki Tourist who have a superior goal difference in fourth. Here are the permutations, second placed Rivers United are away at Akwa United, who really don’t have much to play for but in a league where away wins are sacred, odds are on that Rivers United will lose and remain on 57 points, third place Ifeanyi Ubah FC, who have been involved in a fair share of controversies all season which again reared its head in the Federation Cup win over Crown FC are also away at the Agege Stadium where they are visitors to relegation threatened MFM, I do not see Ifeanyi Ubah getting any point from this fixture and as such they would also end the campaign with 56 points, now fourth place Wikki Tourist who have a plus seven goal difference over Rivers United are at home to Sunshine Stars who stand and outside chance of a Confederations cup ticket, Wikki should win this and usurp Rivers United to end the season in second place behind Enugu Rangers earning a Champions League slot.

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Now the relegation battle, which is the most interesting and most talked about in years sees two teams down already, Giwa FC having being disqualified from the league and Ikorodu United confirmed relegated, four teams hover around the relegation zone with two teams set to go down after these last round of games. 15th place Abia Warriors are the only ones who will be sleeping easy entering this weekend’s fixtures as they have 45 points, two better than Heartland and three over MFM and Warri Wolves but Abia Warriors need just a draw to be safe and they will be hosting Shooting Stars at home in a game where I expect them to get maximum points. Heartland FC are 16th on the log, a place and just a point above the relegation zone, a win will secure Heartland their place in the Professional League for next season but this comes at the cost of an away trip to Plateau United of Jos who have a pretty enviable home record, all things being equal, I do not see Heartland getting any point from this game and thus will end their campaign on 43 points, MFM are 17th on the log and are at home to Ifeanyi Ubah FC in what is the star game of the final weekend.

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For many of us who previously didn’t pay much attention to the league, MFM has endeared us this season and created more awareness to the league, they started the season pretty well but have since fallen off and struggled in recent weeks to even pick points at home. The Agege Stadium will be packed full this weekend in a battle of survival, the boys from the church take on the boys from the Oil tycoon, with the support of their fans and the reward that lies ahead, MFM should get all three points and move onto 45 points which I believe will see them retain their place in the league. ‘Sunday’s match to Ifeanyi Ubah is more than a football match to me…. My career as a coach is tied to it’, Coach Fidelis Ilechuckwu of MFM said.

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Warri Wolves are also on 42 points but with an inferior goal difference to MFM and play host to Ikorodu United in a game I expect them to win but with all eyes on the league this weekend, I struggle to see how they can score more than 5 un-replied goals to stand any chance to survival.
It has been an interesting season, one that has thrown all forms of drama and is set to climax in added frenzy, the LMC have done an amazing job but they still have plenty more to do and hopefully they can use this final day to further set standards in terms of officiating, proper supervision and crowd control. The Cathedral has been thrown open for Enugu fans this weekend as arguably the coach of the season Imama Amapakapo finally gets his crowning moment, with Ikorodu United down, it will be pretty sad for Lagos fans to see yet another one go down but MFM should get the needed win to ensure survival. If you are at any of the cities, do turn up at the stadiums and support what has truly been a good and exciting season.

Here are my top and bottom four predictions after Sunday’s final games.
1st – Enugu Rangers
2nd – Wikki Tourist
3rd – Rivers United
4th – Ifeanyi Uba FC
Enugu Rangers and Wikki Tourist to earn the CAF Champions league places whilst Rivers United settle for the CAF Confederation cup slot.

Bottom Four.
17th – Warri Wolves
18th – Heartland
19th – Ikorodu United
20th – Giwa FC
MFM to somehow survive and Heartland to get relegated for the first time in the history of the league.

A ROUND-UP OF FOOTBALL HAPPENINGS THIS WEEK

A ROUND-UP OF FOOTBALL HAPPENINGS THIS WEEK
Quite a lot has happened in the world of the round leather game this week, here are my five major talking points of the week.

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Jose did play the big man

After weeks of torrid media frenzy both in the print and social media calling for Wayne Rooney to be benched at Manchester United due to his below par performances, United finally lined up at lunchtime on Saturday against Leicester City without their captain. The team did go ahead to put in an impressive performance especially a blow out first half showing that saw Paul Pogba score his first goal on his return to Old Trafford. Rooney did get some few minutes but critics claim the decision paid off as we saw Mata do better in that role. Is this the end of the road for Wazza? Or like he has done several times in the past, will he bounce back better and reclaim his place in the starting team. Rooney has given 12 of his best years to United and will be forever remembered but for the skipper who has been billed to make a return in the Europa League come Thursday night, this may just be the beginning of the end of his career that has spanned many illustrious individual and team awards.

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From being benched to another Champions League goal

Despite another lack-lustre draw at the weekend, where they conceded yet another late goal away at Las Palmas, what made most headlines was Cristiano Ronaldo’s reaction after being substituted in the 72nd minute. This was the major talking point in a week that saw them visiting the Signal Iduna Park to face an inform Borussia Dortmund. Many wondered how Zidane would manage his first high profile ‘bust’ with a star player but 17 minutes in and Ronaldo bagged his 16th goal in 18 games against German opposition and his 95th Champions league goal. That is 45 goals since the start of the 2013/14 season. However in what is now looking like a mini- crisis, with three straight draws and late minute goals conceded, Zidane seems to be lost in finding a solution after a long exciting run, with injury losses to Marcelo and Casemiro especially, the team seems to lack a bit of the elite football it showcased in its run to Champions League success last season and with Ramos equaling a yellow card in every game, the defense is in sixes and the tide needs to be stemmed when they host Eibar come weekend.

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Champions League Week

As a United fan, Tuesday and Wednesday nights are nightmares as the emotional theme songs gets belted come 7.45Pm and the best of European football is on showcase without your favorite team on parade. Tuesday night saw one of the best games you will see this week as Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid served an entertaining 2-2 draw, Dybala also featured with one of the finest goals in this round as Juventus routed Dinamo Zagreb whilst Leicester continue their perfect start to life with the big boys as the Dragon slayer Islam Slimani lived up to his name to see Ranieri’s men steal maximum points away at Porto, Heung- Min Son can’t stop scoring for Spurs and Europa League Specialists Sevilla finally got a win over Lyon.
Wednesday night sees the juicy fixture of Atletico Madrid hosting Bayern Munich, Basel are away at Arsenal, the Swiss side that have had a decent run of results against English teams will be wary of the Arsenal side that turns up following their demolition of Chelsea in the league. Pep Guardiola and his City lads are away to Celtic whilst Napoli hosts Benfica in some of the night’s top matches.

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Fans call for Odion Ighalo’s head

Following a decent 2015/16 campaign where he spearheaded Watford’s campaign alongside Troy Deeney scoring a total of 17 goals in all competition to help Watford remain in the league, this season has witnessed a totally different player. Just one league goal thus far, several open misses and outright poor performances especially in the game against Burnley where they lost by two goals, Ighalo lost the ball easily, misplaced his passes on several occasions when the team tried to make a counter and looking like a shadow of the player he was last season, this has led to calls for him to be dropped and like we witnessed with the Wayne Rooney issue, there is a limit to which coaches can back players who they like or have produced results in the past. Odion Ighalo who has also been less than impressive in National team colors now stands a risk of losing his place at both ends.

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The small matter of Sam Allardyce

It was his dream job, he had prayed for it, worked for it, waited for it to happen, then it finally did and barely weeks after he got the job, Big Sam was caught on video offering advice on how to circumvent the governing body’s rules on player transfers and openly criticizing some of his colleagues. The evidences were damming, the Federation had a decision to make, hence it was no surprise on Tuesday evening, Sam Allardyce left his position as England Manager after one game and 67 days in charge. From a personal angle, it was painful to see but he has no excuses nor has offered any, his naivety and greed was a tool used by the Telegraph and he has only himself to blame.

 

**Pictures courtesy: www.telegraph.co.uk; harrisonamy.com

NPFL MATCHDAY 37 PREVIEW

Its the penultimate match day in the 2016 Nigeria Professional Football League season and teams will be grappling for points to win them the diadem or secure their status in the league for next season. Records will be broken and equaled in the remaining matches of the season but lets take a quick look at the fixtures.

HEARTLAND VS KANO PILLARS

After back to back wins, Heartland will be looking to continue their rich vein of form when they welcome the former champions of the league to the Dan Anyiam stadium in Owerri. The home side are still locked in the relegation battle and this season might just be a down slide for the illustrious club that has never been relegated from the top flight. Currently placed 18th on the table with 40 points, their hopes of survival look bleak and only a miracle from heaven can save them this time around.
Kano Pillars have been very poor away from home to say the least. ‘Sai Masu Gida’ have not shown the resilience their fans know them for and this has made them lose out on continental slots for the second year running. 51 points from same matches as their host puts them on 6th spot-three points from third place and six points from table toppers.

Match day 17; KANO PILLARS 0-0 HEARTLAND FC
VERDICT: Heartland should win this tie comfortably!

ELKANEMI WARRIORS VS PLATEAU UTD

The Maiduguri township stadium has been a slaughter slab for every team that has visited as no club have gone there to pick up points since the home team returned to base. The best any team has gotten (Sunshine Stars) is scoring two goals but they tend to always win the matches. With their talisman striker Mustapha Ibrahim back from his sojourn to Egypt, Ladan Bosso will not want to take chances with his 48 points that is not certainty of survival in the NPFL; a point will guarantee their safety.
Plateau united have done themselves a whole lot of good in retaining their Federation cup winning coach-Zakary Baraje. He’s been able to steer the club away from the relegation zone they found themselves at the beginning of the season. Having same points with their host, the Jos based club are sure of staying up even if they lose today with a game in hand at home next weekend needing just a point to be sure!

Match day 17: PLATEAU UTD 1-1 ELKANEMI WARRIORS (82′ Reuben Bala, 67′ Daniel Japhet)
VERDICT: Elkanemi straight win!

IKORODU UNITED VS RANGERS INT’L

‘Oga Boys’ as they are fondly called, have found some sort of reprieve from their sloppy run of games since moving to the MKO ABIOLA Stadium in Abeokuta. Even though they have been confirmed to return to the Nigeria National League , Ikorodu United will want to finish on a high after posting fantastic results against two former champions of the league-Enyimba and Kano pillars-and might just want to throw a spanner into the works of their guest.
Rangers have it all to do in this encounter as there is no room for error if they truly want to end their 32-years drought on the domestic front. Sitting on top of the table with 57 points, the least the flying Antelopes will be gunning for will be a draw. A win for them however might just make them champions if their closest rival Rivers United fail to win in their own game.

Match day 17: RANGERS INTL 4-1 IKORODU UNITED (11′ Francis Nnedum-OG, 16’&21′ Tope Olusesi, 85′ Obinna Nwobodo; 23’Moses Ebiye)
VERDICT: A scored draw/Rangers win

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SHOOTING STARS VS WIKKI TOURIST

The Oluyole Warriors still need to pick maximum points at home to remain in the league. With 44 points and on 15th position, safety is not sure yet. The management have still not settled the outstanding debts of the players and that might work against them. But in their last home game, they did enough to steal all three points from Rangers. So the boys might just be playing for their gaffer in this one even with a low morale.
Wikki have it all to do if they still want a continental ticket. Four consecutive losses away from home has pushed them out of reckoning for the league title and so will be hoping to get their form back at the Lekan Salami Stadium.

Match day 17: Wikki Tourist 4-0 SHOOTING STARS (61′,75′,89′ Godwin Obaje, 86′ Saidu Abdullahi)
VERDICT: Shooting stars win/draw

RIVERS UNITED VS ABIA WARRIORS

Rivers United will be smelling blood when the Warriors come to town. With just a point behind the league leaders, Rivers will want to keep up the chase to win the title and to win it in their first season since they were formed from the amalgamation of Dolphins FC and Sharks FC. Stanley Eguma has enough experience in the league to know this is a win or burst game for his lads.
Abia Warriors can still be relegated even with their 44 points. The players know their destiny is still in their own hands but they will have to get something from this match if they are to remain.

Match day 17: ABIA WARRIORS 1-0 RIVERS UNITED (23′ Michael Olaha)
VERDICT: Rivers to win!

NASARAWA UNITED VS AKWA UNITED

Kabiru Dogo will be disappointed they lost all three points in Umuahia last weekend having played so well and their chances of getting back to the continent is no longer in their hands. They have 49 points from 34 matches, 9th on the log with five points behind third placed Wikki.
Akwa United are also one of the teams in danger of going down if they lose their remaining two matches and other results from other teams in the same fight don’t go their way. As such, they will want to steal a point from their host to boost their chances going into the final game of the season against title contenders Rivers United.

Match day 17: Akwa united 1-0 Nasarawa united (36′ Ubong Ekpai)
VERDICT: Nasarawa win/draw

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SUNSHINE STARS VS WARRI WOLVES

The Owena waves will be looking to consolidate on their 50 points haul which places them on 7th position. And with the ever vociferous fans at the Akure township Stadium, nothing short of a victory will do for them.
How Wolves have found themselves in this position leaves many of their fans wondering if the decision to sack the former management team to bring in a new one has helped the club in anyway. They are in danger of being relegated with their paltry 42 points and they will need to win this match and also their last game at home to Ikorodu United to stand any chance. They also need to score plenty of goals.

Matchday 17: Warri Wolves 2-0 Sunshine stars (55’&59′ Sikiru Alimi)
Verdict: Sunshine win/draw.

NIGER TORNADOES VS MFM FC

Tornadoes have an impressive home record-not losing in 55 matches at the Confluence stadium in Lokoja- where they have been playing their home matches. They also are in danger of going back to the lower tier if they lose their last two matches and other results don’t go their way. Abubakar Bala will not want to take chances and will do everything possible to win this one.
MFM FC have to pray seriously even as they also need to work on the pitch of play against their host. They got a morale boosting point against the defending Champions-Enyimba last weekend and will be hoping to go a step further in their quest to remain in the top flight.

Match day 17: MFM FC 2-0 Niger Tornadoes (26′ Abiodun Adebayo-OG, 45′ Stephen Odey)
Verdict: Tornadoes win/draw

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FC IFEANYI UBAH VS ENYIMBA
This is going to be a gruel encounter considering the fact that the home team are trying to dethrone their visitors. Ifeanyi Ubah have been very resolute at home this season and have their star players available for this one.
Enyimba have all been disappointing so far this season and will want to be spoilers for their host. A scintillating Oriental derby it promises to be.

Match day 17: ENYIMBA 2-0 FC IFEANYI UBAH (17′ Ibengbu Ikechukwu, 60′ Daniel Etor)
VERDICT: Ifeanyi Ubah to win!

 

***Pictures courtesy www.goal.com; footballive.ng; dailypost.ng

PREMIER LEAGUE: FIVE THINGS + 5 TO EXPECT THIS WEEKEND

With another weekend comes another flurry of football across various leagues round the world and as always the excitement keeps gaining several notches as the competition gets fiercer with every kick of the ball. Week 6 in the Premier League throws up some interesting round of fixtures, major landmark for Arsene Wenger and decision Saturday for Jose Mourinho as the cries to drop Wayne Rooney gets louder, here is a preview of the weekend games;

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1. Decision day for Jose as United take on the Champions
It’s Manchester United hosting reigning Champion’s Leicester City at Old Trafford in the weekend curtain raiser fixture. Off the back of two consecutive League defeats, United welcome Leicester who have showed various shades of form thus far this season. All eyes will be on the team-list when it gets released an hour before kick-off as the clamor for Wayne Rooney to be dropped following yet another below par performance midweek grows, also quite a number of fans will be interested in seeing what Jose does with the midfield following impressive showings by Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick, will the duo be drafted in to allow Paul Pogba more freedom or will Jose stick with Maroune Fellaini who have been quite decent in the games played thus far. For Ranieri, it’s a quest for consistency from his team and will he be opting for two strikers following Slimani’s fine debut last time out. A Vardy/ Slimani attack will worry an uncertain United defense.
Prediction: United to edge this 2-1.

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2. Will Conte reign on Arsene’s Parade?
This weekend marks the 20th Anniversary of Arsene Wenger as Arsenal Manger. For all the criticisms that have come his way, few would argue that Arsene contributed a large quota to the excitement and appeal that has made the Premier League one of the most exciting and followed league in the world. Two seasons ago when he marked his 1,000th game in charge, the opponents that day was Chelsea under manager Jose Mourinho and the result is one that Arsene will pray does not get repeated. This time around, Arsenal welcome Chelsea to the Emirates under new Manager Antonio Conte and the Blues who have enjoyed a fine start to their campaign until last weekend’s defeat to Liverpool will be hoping to quickly bounce back from the loss, the big question however remains, with two goals scored in the EFL following impressive performances anytime he gets played, has Fabregas done enough to earn a starting berth in Conte’s team. For Arsene, many times his team has fluffed on occasions like this and following the form of new signings Granit Xhaka and the likes of Alex Iwobi, Arsenal has a good chance of doing one over their local neighbors in what should be an explosive end to Saturday games.
Prediction: A share of the Spoils. 2-2

3. The Saints go marching Ham
When it rains, it pours, 13 goals conceded in 5 games, 8 in the last two and despite having an exciting forward of Lanzini, Payet and Miguel Antonio who can’t seem to stop scoring, West Ham cannot seem to get it right at the back. Bilic rang some changes to the back line last weekend but Arthur Masuaku who has now being ruled out with an injury got things off on a really bad note for the hammers. Slaven Bilic really needs to get a result from this as his team has not shown any bit the top beaters they were last season, despite the creative talents upfront, only Miguel Antonio seems the only player who knows how to score especially when it’s not a penalty for Lanzini or a late minute free kick from Payet and new signing Simone Zaza has been disappointing thus far. For the Saints 5 points from 5 games is not exactly top grade but a first win at home to Swansea is enough to boost confidence going into this game. One thing is certain, goals abound.

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4. Should we start taking Everton Serious?
13 points from 5 games is huge, especially with the renewed form of Roman Lukaku, the creativity of Bolasie and the solo runs of Seamus Coleman. Manager Ronald Koeman seems to be on a roll, there is a considerable amount of talent in his team with the likes of Barkley, Mirallas, Bolasie and Enner Valencia all capable of producing some moment of magic. They have found stability in Gareth Barry who celebrated his landmark game with a goal last week and the defense seems to have found the missing lock in Ashley Williams, some have predicted the Merseyside team to maybe become this season’s Leicester City and finish in the top four, early days yet but the signs are looking good for the team. For Bournemouth, with only a point above the relegation zone, this is one home fixture they have to make count, a point will be fair, all three will be welcomed.
Prediction: Everton to win 3-1

5. Will Hull fall down at Anfield?
Hull have been one of the surprise teams thus far this season, few expected them to have gotten a point at this stage but they sit fairly comfortable on the log with 7 points from 5 games, not bad when you consider their injury worries and in- house troubles at the start of the season and being on same number of points with defending champions Leicester is one that Mike Phelan will be proud of. For Mike Phelan, who remains caretaker coach, he is yet to lose an away fixture but this may just be the end of that run. Liverpool are becoming quite a unit, beautiful on the ball when they have to, battlers when they need to, liked how they defeated Chelsea last weekend and I don’t see Hull stopping them from getting all three points come Saturday.
Prediction: Liverpool to win

Other fixtures:

Swansea City VS Manchester City: Who can stop Pep’s army? Swansea seeks to perform this task for the second time in four days following a 2-1 defeat at the hand of their visitor’s midweek. Swansea have won one of eleven fixtures against this weekend’s opponents whilst City have maximum points from all their games, this is one task too tough to demand from Guidolin and his boys, another City win.

Middlesbrough VS Tottenham Hotspurs: With Harry Kane ruled out for up to 8 weeks, new signing Vincent Jansen has a platform to prove his worth, he did score in the EFL even if it’s just against Gillingham and via a penalty, for Boro, a win is vital following consecutive league defeats, coach Karanka will be desperate for three home points.

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Stoke City VS West Bromwich Albion: Following the goals feast at home to West Ham last season that saw star signing Nacer Chadli running the lines, Tony Pulis will be hoping his team can finally now start scoring more especially on the road. For Stoke City, it has been a disastrous start to the season and they sit bottom on the log, this is a real chance for them to get the season going and Arnautovic’s last minute consolation goal away to Crystal Palace shows that individually there is some considerable talent in the team.

Sunderland VS Crystal Palace: Palace in fine form up against a struggling Sunderland who did get a win in the EFL away at Queens Park Rangers, Palace should win this

Jonathan Moscrop / LaPresse20 10 2012 Torino ( Italia )Sport CalcioJuventus vs. Napoli - Serie A Tim 2012/2013 - Juventus StadiumNella foto: L'allenatore del Napoli Walter MazzarriJonathan Moscrop / LaPresse20 10 2012 Turin ( Italy )Sport SoccerJuventus versus SSC Napoli - Italian Serie A Soccer League 2012/2013 - Juventus StadiumIn the Photo: Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri

Burnley VS Watford: Monday night kickoff see Watford who enjoyed a first win in 30 years against Manchester United last week away at Turf Moor, home ground of Burnley, the Clarets enjoyed a surprise win at home to Liverpool earlier in the season but are yet to win a game since then. Manager Sean Dyche will be hoping for a repeat performance come Monday night.

This Landmark Weekend

Here we are again after another hard week of grinding and hustling; the weekend is finally upon us, so we can kick off our shoes and relax our feet because we have got some big games coming up across the world. This weekend is a landmark weekend in many ways; in London, Arsenal’s greatest manager celebrates 20 years in charge of the Gunners; Manchester United seek to bounce back from back to back defeats in the Premier League; there are landmark clashes in Turkey and Italy whilst in Nigeria, the final push for the league title enters its penultimate weekend.

Arsenal v Chelsea 

Hate him or Love him; Arsene Wenger is arguably Arsenal Football Club’s greatest manager; this is obviously despite the jury still been out on him not conquering Europe yet; but you cannot fault the man and the impact he has had on English football as a whole. On Top Radio’s Sports Cafe on Thursday; I tagged Arsene Wenger a revolutionary; his coming to England changed the way many managers viewed the game including the Legendary Alex Ferguson; introduction of diverse training methods, a different style of man management (remember the continuous and insistent  denials in seeing a tackle or major decision as it concerned his team); introduction of specific and rigorous dietary regiments on his players; the evolution of the Gunners from the boring 1-nil to the Arsenal to a team that mixed quick, zippy and exquisite passing with a huge burst of pace and speed; Wenger’s teams were notorious for putting teams to the sword within the first twenty minutes of a game, it was always brilliant to watch.

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In the Saturday late Kick off at the Emirates; Arsene Wenger celebrates 20 years as manager at Arsenal Football Club; the French man has seen it all in football, but unfortunately for him Chelsea come visiting  not bearing gifts at all other than to be party spoilers and this is they have done before. On the occasion of Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game; a visit to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea was on the cards and we know there’s no love lost between both manager’s; decked in his new Suit and Tie; Arsene Wenger and Arsenal were on the end of a spanking.

Chelsea have dominated this fixture for many years with the only Arsenal victory that comes to mind been in the Community Shield from last season. Now this is a Chelsea team seeking an identity under Antonio Conte, looking for defensive solidity and midfield balance. The Italian manager has also transferred his never say die attitude to the team as Chelsea recorded victories with some late rallies in the first few games of the season; the team is still yet to play in the Conte mold, but you can see the progress and you can be rest assured that the players would maintain the same intensity and desire going into a game against Arsenal.

Antonio-Conte

The Gunners have only one win in their last eleven meetings with Chelsea; this inspires very little hope that the North London team can get a result against the Blues. It has been quite customary for Chelsea to dominate matches between both sides and I do not think this would be any different especially if Cesc Fabregas gets a start after a great performance in the EFL Cup in mid week. I think its high time; Antonio Conte made a decision relating to the lack of creativity in the middle of the pack from his team; Chelsea seem like a team with a lot of buzz but very little cutting edge in midfield; the introduction of Fabregas is a welcome addition and variation with Oscar my preferred fall guy.

In all of this; a keenly contested and entertaining game is expected from both sides; it would be interesting to see the adjustments both managers decide to make with Arsenal having many options of combinations in their midfield and Chelsea’s ongoing injury worries in defense.

Prediction: Looks like a draw for me; potentially a 1-1 draw.

Betting Punt: Chelsea Win/Draw

Manchester United v Leicester City

Jose Mourinho seems like a dead man walking; the feeling of de ja vu must be giving the Portuguese gaffer sleepless nights and of course the media have had a filled day with varying headlines and criticisms of his players. Jose has labelled some of them Einstein with some other Premier League managers throwing some support his way, but really it doesn’t change the fact that Jose’s United team is struggling and in need of a kick in the back side to get things going.

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Leicester City come calling as defending champions but with a mixed start to the season and an early exit from the EFL Cup puts their season in proper perspective especially with their Champions League Campaign getting off to a great start. Leicester would look to bounce back from the mid week defeat to Chelsea; expect Ismail Slimani to make a return to the starting line up after an impressive debut in a much deserved win for the Foxes. Claudio Ranieri seems to have settled on a line up especially with the huge gap left by the departure of N’Kolo Kante, which the presence of Daniel Amartey has helped to reduce the effects of his absence.

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Jose Mourinho is rumoured to be considering sending its side out without club captain Wayne Rooney after intense pressure and criticism from the media and United fans alike. You can expect a number of changes to the Red Devils going into this vital and pivotal game as I cannot remember Manchester United losing three straight league games. The likes of Carrick and Herrera are expected to keep their shirts in the starting eleven after strong performances in midweek. Manchester United haven’t lost to Leicester City at Old Trafford since 1998 and have lost only once to the Foxes in their last fourteen meetings; seems easier said than done for a United victory. For victory to be guaranteed; the United set up has to be better, more balance, quicker passing and some ruthlessness upfront.

Prediction: Tough call, but I think Manchester United should Win

Betting Punt: Manchester United win

Besiktas v Galatasaray

With last season’s triumph as Turkey’s top club and the breaking of the duopoly that exist between Fenerbache and Galatasaray; Besiktas have somewhat taken off from where they left off last season aiming to retain their title with a squad that seems much stronger than any composition in the entire Super League.

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With a chance to go top of the table available for both clubs; it is expected that both teams will go all guns blazing, it is expected that Besiktas would have the upper hand in this one with players like Eren Derdiyok and Cenk Tosun expected to shine and light up the match.

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The Home team would look to milk the support from the home crowd who turn the stadium to a colourful and noisy; the visitors for me have been disappointing for me in their play, but with this been their toughest battles, a victory would give the Gold and Red a huge boost of confidence.

 

Prediction: Close game expected; but Besiktas should shade this one

Betting Punt: Besiktas Win/Draw

Fiorentina v AC Milan

AC Milan won back to back games for the first time since February, 2016; the signs are ominous for a potential revival at the Rossinerri; Carlos Bacca is scoring goals, Donnaruma is shutting teams out and showing maturity far beyond his age, but they come up against a resilient Fiorentina side that ground out a late winner against Roma and fought back twice against Udinese; they don’t know how to lie down.

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Milan have won both of their last two matches in games that last season they would have dropped points to the likes of Sampdoria and Lazio. Vincenzo Montella is gradually putting a compact team together, hopefully when the necessary and expected January investments come in they would be on the right track, It is imperative he has funds to spend in January to potentially rid the instability at the club at this point.

Like every top flight Serie A game, you can be rest assured that it would be a balanced game between two teams who have found form in recent weeks and looking to build on it; victory for either side provides a solid platform to boost morale and ambition for either side.

Prediction: With the current form of both teams, its difficult to separate both sides. 

Betting Punt: Draw

FC Ifeanyi Ubah v Enyimba

Its the Penultimate weekend to probably the most competitive run in to the title in recent memory, with as many as four teams still in with a chance of been crowned champions of the Nigerian Professional Football League. Rangers International, Rivers United, Wikki Tourist and FC Ifeanyi Ubah are still in contention for the league title and are separated by just four points with two games to go.

Ifeanyi-ubah

FC Ifeanyi Ubah go into their last home game of the season with defending champions Enyimba visiting in what is an Oriental derby that would either move FCIU closer to the title, a continental slot or as an also ran. With the investments made in the team by controversial billionaire businessman; nothing short of a CAF Confederation Cup slot will be accepted as a minimum reward for a long and hard season filled with different types of issues for the team and their owner.

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Enyimba have been quite disappointing this season and I wont be surprised if there are wholesale changes at the team in the off season; a poor showing in the CAF Champions League did very little to boost their reputation; however as we have always known of Enyimba, they are always in contention and still have the Federation cup to fight for; interestingly the final may be between both teams going head to head this weekend.

Enyimba have won only two of their last seven matches; which eventually put paid to the title aspirations they were having; this poor also reflects in their last four games, where they are winless in four; dropping points to teams in the relegation positions like MFM and Ikorodu United.

Ifeanyi Ubah have lost two of their last six and these have been away from home; so their home comforts remain true and they would seek to use this to their full advantage to ensure that they push the battle for the title to the final day.

Prediction: Close game expected; I believe FC Ifeanyi Ubah will win this

Betting Punt: FC Ifeanyi Ubah Win/Draw

Halftimeng Premier League Team of Week 5

Another big weekend; but same story and outcome for Manchester United as the Red Devils fell to back to back defeats in the Premier League and a third defeat in a week; things don’t look all together at Old Trafford. Whilst, on the other side of town; the Citizens continue to mature; Liverpool put up a tactical master in London; Arsenal continue to up the tempo as the likes of West Brom, Everton and Leicester start finding their groove.

With five matches played; there’s still so much to play for; form will drop, heads will drop; but the class of some the players in my team of the week selection could be the difference in how well their respective teams perform as the season progresses.

Here is my Premier League Team of Week 5 in a 4-3-3 formation;

 

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Halftimeng UCL Match-day 1 Best Eleven

European Football is getting into full swing as the most prestigious club competition for 2016/17 kicked off with mixed performances from some of Europe’s top clubs with the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona laying down a huge marker; it won’t be the Champions League if there wasn’t one surprise or the other across the venues.

Here is my best eleven from Match day one; set up in a 3-4-3 formation;

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THE MANCHESTER DERBY AND WEEKEND PREVIEW

After the International break where players traveled round the globe to represent their national sides both in games that mattered and some that added no points to their scoreboard, the bread and butter of league football returns, and it returns with a bang in The Premier League.

It doesn’t come bigger than the Manchester Derby which has been fueled by City’s spending big in the past few years and matching up to their more illustrious neighbors, to further spice up the encounter is the coming together of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, both very successful managers in their own rights, two of the best in the world with a strong history between them, not to be carried away though, the weekend also promises fixtures like Liverpool up against Leicester City and Arsenal up against Southampton in a roundup of games which climaxes with Everton’s visit to Sunderland on Monday night, here are my thoughts on the Manchester Derby and a preview of some of the fixtures. Welcome back to the exciting world of The Premier League

The little matter of the MANCHESTER DERBY
Pep Guardiola will be leading his side out at Old Trafford for his first taste of the derby, and his 17th encounter against a side led by Jose Mourinho spanning seven years in which the Spaniard has been victorious on seven occasions to Jose’s three. This is a showcase of two of the most expensive teams in the league, a display of the top talents in the world and a rivalry amidst two of the best coaches in club football, the two were supposed to have met during pre-season but somehow nature and the gods of football conspired to make their first meet a competitive one, now here are three talking points expected from the game;

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1. Jose VS Pep – No doubt, the two managers have quickly tried to settle into their new teams and enforce their style from the off, Jose has adapted his 4-2-3-1 formation and already sign of a stingy backline is being seen at United, for Pep, it’s been changes at various level, from Hart losing his position as top choice Goal keeper because of reasons other than keeping the ball out the back of the net to his full backs playing more as wingers and a resurgence to Sterling’s game, both managers are laying down their markers and have maximum points from three games played.
‘I know what the derby means to Man Utd. If you want to be successful, you have to win the game’, Jose Mourinho
‘I have a lot of respect for Mourinho…. The rivalry is more from the media and we can’t control that’, Pep Guardiola.
Those were comments taken from their pre-match conferences, the game kicks off lunchtime and hopefully both sides go all out and not tactically ruin what could well be an explosive game and perfect curtain raiser for the weekend.

Marcus Rashford

2. Battle of the Youngsters – recently, there has been this debate on social media concerning Marcus Rashford of Manchester United and Kelechi Iheanacho who is in line to replace the suspended Sergio Aguero in the City forward, no doubt, the duo represent the finest U-21 talents in the world and whilst Rashford who broke into the team last season scored in the final minutes of United’s victory at Hull to give Jose’s side maximum points and continued with his fine form with a hat-trick for the U-21 English side, Kelechi has also continued to impress with his stunning goal for Nigeria against Tanzania. It would be interesting to see if they get to start and how much of an influence they may have, considering how Rashford scored the only goal last season.

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3. Tactical Dilemma – Now this is one area that excites me, both managers have their styles and are rigid with it, but with the fixture this early in the season, both sides won’t be worried if the game ends in a draw, especially City being the away side. Claudio Bravo is set to make his first start, but what will Pep make of his central defense, John Stones seems to have earned his place in the team, with Kolarov posting impressive performances in central defense, Otamendi lurks around and skipper Vincent Kompany is back to training, it would also be exciting to see how Pep goes up against United’s ‘giant’ midfield of Pogba and Fellaini and with his full backs pushing high up, Martial and Mata may just have room to wreck havoc. He also has a decision to make in Aguero’s absence as finding the right player to lead the lines would be key. For Jose, his biggest dilemma remains the Wayne Rooney position, criticized yet again for his performance for the Three Lions, with many calling that he be dropped (the umpteenth time) for Marcus Rashford.

Key Points from other games

Tottenham Hotspurs VS Stoke – Spurs have gathered five points from a possible nine, whilst Stoke are rock bottom on the table with one point, the Potters will be hoping to start changing this statistics and will rely on new acquisitions in Wilfred Bony and Bruno Martins Indi to help steady a ship that has been rocked with injuries.

Mauricio Pochettino

Arsenal Vs Southampton – The Gunners bounced back from a poor start to their season with an impressive win just before the break against Watford, for Southampton, new manager Claude Puel is still in search of his first win with the team but this is a ground where he is unlikely to pick one, new signing Mustafi is in line to make his debut for the gunners alongside Lucas Perez whilst record signing for the Saints, Sofiane Boufal is struggling to be fit. I expect the Gunners to get maximum points from this.

Antonio-Conte

Swansea VS Chelsea – Antonio Conte has adjusted to life in England quickly, he was able to add David Luiz to his ranks on deadline day and he has mentioned severally his willingness to try several formations during the course of the season, for Swansea manager, Guidolin, he is meeting a familiar face in Conte and has his record signing Borja Baston available to start. Chelsea has started well and should pick maximum points at Liberty Stadium.

The Manchester Derby: Five Potential Tactical Talking Points

Its finally here; two of the most successful managers of the modern era go head to head in their first meeting as new managers in the Premier League with both at different points in their respective careers. Good enough both Manchester teams have started very well, maintaining 100 % records thus far. With all the hype surrounding this clash, I have been looking at the interesting tactical sub plots that may present itself by Saturday lunch time; if the past encounters between teams managed by both managers is anything to go buy; it may be a brutal affair. Here are my potential talking points from a tactical perspective;

Obsession with Alterations

I believe to a large extent there is a general consensus that Pep Guardiola  can be quite arrogant and obsessive with how he sets up his team especially in the big games. He makes so many adjustments in game that it is borderline compulsive, this is not to say he does these for the fun of it or without a desired out come well thought out. Especially at his time at Bayern ; where the Bavarians start with a flat back four, only to switch to three at the back as the game wore on and I do not expect any different in this clash. Manchester City on paper will be lined up as having a back four; but as they start to boss possession, get comfortable and control the game; their shape invariably shifts to a back three with the full backs joining the midfield as potential defensive midfielders or as he has shown at certain time; the full backs push up to the halfway line of the pitch as Wing backs providing coverage in instances where teams seek to isolate the center backs occupying the wide areas of the back three.

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With Mourinho; there wont be much in alterations, he is known to be as single minded as can be; alterations as far as he is concern may depend on a few surprises in his line up to address anticipated game plan of his opponent or in personnel changes as the game wears on. Mourinho would look at the City midfield that no longer has Yaya Toure expecting to dominate or impose the physical strength and size of his team on a team that has quite a number of light weight figures in their team; expect a few brawls and mismatches in midfield.

False Nine

With the absence of Sergio Aguero through suspension; Manchester City have lost a prolific striker always up for the occassion; with seven goals in eight Manchester Derbies, the Argentina loves and craves this fixture; but now gives his manager a major selection headache upfront. There is the option of youthful and Energetic Kelechi Iheanacho; who has been a worthy substitute many  at times; getting double figures last season; but those his selection work with the game plan? I make bold to say no; Kelechi’s talent has never been in doubt; however with the way we expect City to focus their play in pressing United up top would limit him and hinder Guardiola’s overall game plan; based on this notion, I won’t be surprised if Nolito or David Silva get the nod as a False Nine.

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The reasoning behind is quite clear; Pep is a control freak, he wont want to give the United any inch to build momentum from the back; so you can expect the False Nine to be on Paul Pogba or Fellaini once they receive the ball with their backs to the play. This give City additional superiority in terms of numbers in midfield still; now this is not to say the entire tactical thinking or considerations for the game favours Manchester City overwhelmingly; United too have a few questions of their one to counter whatever City bring to the mix and we will get to that subsequently.

Still not built in Mourinho’s Image

As with Manchester United; I believe Manchester City are also a work in progress, but over the years Jose Mourinho has built his reputation on pragmatism and putting together physically imposing sides. I still feel that this United side are still a little bit off what you would call a team built in the Mourinho image; yes he address a lot of this imbalances in the transfer window with his signings that have obviously changed the complexion of the team from a physical stand point, however in terms of the compact, drilled and organized nature of his previous sides in big games; this United side still seem a bit short.

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I do think Jose Mourinho, more often than not doesn’t get the credit he deserves at times for his team’s ability to mix it during the entire course of a season. As the season progresses; things will take shape, a note of warning though to United fans; if the team seem to play on the back foot for a large part of the game; set up to counter attack; remember Sir Alex was quite masterful at doing this to teams that sort to control games; so no grumbling.

Play Direct and Isolate

All the key battles seem to be in midfield because of both the expected talent on display and the expected congestion in that area; so expect United to be very direct in their play,worry City aerially and from set pieces; cue the much maligned Daley Blind; his range and variation of passes would be pivotal to Mourinho’s game plan as Manchester United look to bring the ball out of defense bypassing the already crowded midfield; his passes would be primarily set out to bring about one v one situations between Zlatan and John Stones and United’s wide men and City’s other two defenders in the event they switch to a back three.

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Quick Balls into such channels gives United the opportunity to utilize its pace in wide areas as City continue to focus on dominating the midfield; it is imperative United seek to isolate Otamendi or Fernandinho as its best attacking chance of gaining an upper hand in a game that is expected to be keenly contested.

Zlatan needs runners

If you have watched Zlatan Ibrahimovic has his career has progressed and as he has aged in the game; more and more the role of players that play along side him have become integral to Zlatan’s success as been the arrow head of the attack. In a game where United will be possibly starved of the ball for a vast majority of the game; opportunities Mourinho’s side creates must be utilized; this is because as stated above once United are able to isolate Zlatan and one of City’s Center backs; there must be runs of the ball and into space for the strike to do two things; lay off the pass to the on rushing player or use said player as a decoy to shoot on goal or whatever alternative is available.

Zlatan header

It is important for United’s overall approach to be in such manner as Mourinho is one that is not too concerned or won’t be bothered with not having the bulk of possession or controlling the game. For him; whatever he has laid out as planned for this game; if executed to a T with victory for United would be his main comfort. I believe that for some odd reason; Mourinho would have been preparing for this game mentally from the day the fixture list was released.

My Verdict

We all expect a fascinating encounter; but experience has shown that more often than not that high caliber matches of this nature end as an anti climax because both managers are obsessed with not wanting to lose.  So I expect a 1-1 draw.