Have Man Utd really turned a corner or will they revert to type at Chelsea? Also: Spurs and Marsch need a swift response, while Calvert-Lewin requires service.
Game to watch – Chelsea v Man Utd
United are back… maybe.
The Red Devils were fantastic while brushing Tottenham aside at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. They produced the most complete performance in Lord knows how long to offer the first real glimpse of what Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United might look like.
Now what? United have teased us before only to revert to the shambles they have been for long periods of the post-Fergie era. We’ll see at Chelsea whether they have any intention of making the Spurs win a genuine turning point.
We won’t see Cristiano Ronaldo. The 37-year-old didn’t bother to stick around for the final whistle, or even a shower, on Wednesday night. That felt like a watershed moment in Ronaldo’s brief, complicated relationship with Ten Hag. And he didn’t exactly apologise when it was confirmed he was dropped from the first-team squad for the trip to Stamford Bridge.
If Todd Boehly had his way, Ronaldo might be Graham Potter’s problem this weekend. Instead, the Chelsea boss has enjoyed a serene, drama-free start to his reign over the Blues.
His main concerns may surround how leggy his team look. Their winning run under Potter came to an end at Brentford on Wednesday when the new boss dug deep into his bag of tactical tricks in a bid to light a spark. They aren’t anywhere as fluent as Potter would like but they have kept five clean sheets on the bounce; United won’t get the 28 shots they were generously allowed by Spurs.
It won’t be a thriller. It might not even be all that exciting. But it will be intriguing, with United looking to crack the top four.
Team to watch – Tottenham
This week, Tottenham are sh*te. Next week, who knows?
So poor were they against United, an instant response is required on Sunday to avoid further erosion of the early-season optimism, strained towards breaking point by p*ss-poor performances in big games.
It was almost a zombie Spurs that surrendered at Old Trafford. And Antonio Conte was oddly apathetic to it all. The manager made no changes until the 82nd minute, by which time it was about preservation rather than resurrection.
We have to assume he has been rather more animated since getting his players back to Spurs Lodge. None of them, Hugo Lloris aside, could complain if they were dropped for the visit of Newcastle, against whom Conte might be considering tweaking more than just the identity of his wing-backs.
Manager to watch – Jesse Marsch
At the time of writing, Steven Gerrard is still in a job. We expect that to change before Sunday, despite the Villa boss reportedly being given two games to save his job. But the Villans were so wretched at Fulham that the travelling support called for his head during the second half and barely had the final whistle peeped before the local paper echoed the demand. It is hard to believe that Gerrard will still be in charge by… Oh, they’ve just sacked him. Well, that’s an awkward coach ride back to Brum.
At least Marsch will still be leading Leeds come Sunday but he too could be on borrowed time. The Leeds faithful weren’t demanding a change during their defeat at Leicester but they certainly wanted to know ‘what the f*** is going on?’. Marcelo Bielsa is rarely far from Leeds fans’ minds but the way his name was chanted at the King Power was rather more pointed than the usual songs of praise for El Loco.
Even more than that, Marsch looked bereft after Leeds slumped to a sixth game without a win, the victory over Chelsea feeling considerably longer than two months ago. Gone was the infectious, sometimes grating enthusiasm, replaced by an air of resignation that saw him slope off down the tunnel without acknowledging the Leeds fans.
He won’t be able to hide on Sunday when Fulham go to Elland Road. A repeat of the meek, sloppy surrender to the Foxes and the mood towards Marsch could turn toxic.
Player to watch – Dominic Calvert-Lewin
The England centre-forward is surely back too late to stake a claim for a World Cup place. But Calvert-Lewin’s return to fitness comes in the nick of time for Everton.
The Toffees have tightened up impressively this season. Last term, their defence was wretched. Since the signings of England defenders James Tarkowski and Conor Coady, only five teams have conceded fewer. And they’re all in the top eight.
Everton prepare to welcome Crystal Palace to Goodison on Saturday while languishing in 15th after losing their last three games. In their last two, they haven’t managed a shot on target, despite creating two golden opportunities before falling behind at Spurs last week.
Calvert-Lewin featured from the start for the first time this season at Newcastle, where he was starved of any service whatsoever. He doesn’t ask for much and it need not be pinpoint – get the ball into areas in the box he can attack it.
Everton haven’t played that way under Lampard this season because, without a physical presence like Calvert-Lewin, it wouldn’t have served them any use. Now, with the No.9 back, albeit in a staggered return, the Toffees have the option to vary their play and be more direct ahead of a favourable run of fixtures before the World Cup.
EFL game(s) to watch – South Wales and M1 derbies
Two derbies to choose from on Sunday lunchtime, with Cardiff going to Swansea at midday, when Watford host Luton.
The Swans are favourites in South Wales having won five of their last six. Cardiff have improved since axing Steve Morrison and caretaker Mark Hudson has taken seven points from five games. The Bluebirds don’t appear to be in a rush to make a permanent appointment, and victory at the Liberty would go some way to Hudson landing the gig full-time.
The form guide suggests there’s more chance of an away win at Vicarage Road, but it depends which Watford turns up. Slaven Bilic has overseen two fine wins and three miserable defeats. Luton, on the other hand, are in great form, unbeaten in seven. But, despite there being 10 places between the two sides, the Hornets and Hatters are separated by only four points. Championship, that.
European game to watch – Roma v Napoli
The biggie in Italy this weekend sees Luciano Spalletti take his leaders to the capital as he seeks a first ever win over Jose Mourinho.
The pair were magnanimous when they met on TV this week – we demand more of this format after Potter and Thomas Frank also interviewed each other – but Mourinho is desperate to maintain his dominance over the Napoli boss to get Roma within a point of the current pacesetters.
Mourinho: “There he is, Spallettone! You wanna win every game or what?”
Spalletti: “Simmer down now, you’re dangerous”
JM: “I reckon you need to lose your next away game”
LS: “Here in Naples we’ve got the full range of good luck charms, that’ll come back to haunt you” pic.twitter.com/zzlocmEUIj
— Patrick Kendrick (@patrickendrick) October 20, 2022
While first goes to fourth, third-placed Milan may see an opportunity while second-placed Atalanta take on Lazio in fifth.
Elsewhere on the continent, the top two meet in Portugal when Porto host Benfica on Friday night, while in Spain, leaders Real Madrid face Sevilla on Saturday evening, 24 hours before Barca host Athletic Bilbao.
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