After the recent rounds of World Cup qualifying matches around the world, the Premier League resumes this weekend with some fascinating match-ups.
MANCHESTER CITY AT MANCHESTER UNITED
First meets third at Old Trafford for Saturday’s early fixture. This Manchester derby has the extra spark of being the first face-off between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. Two managers, formerly friends, now the worst of enemies.
Guardiola, the erudite and thinking man’s football manager; Mourinho, the snarling upstart from the projects. A rivalry fuelled by Barcelona’s snub of the Portuguese manager in favor of the Spaniard. And boy, have the sparks flown in the big matches.
Mourinho drew first blood when his Inter Milan side went to the Camp Nou for the Champions League semi-final second leg in 2010. Defending a 3 – 1 advantage, they made the final despite losing 0 – 1. Jose launched across the pitch in celebration in front of the stands that he desperately wanted to adore him.
Guardiola struck back; the first Classico with Mourinho in charge of Real Madrid ended in humiliation as Barcelona won 5 – 0. The press had a field day and the behavior deteriorated in the press conferences and on the touchlines.
But tomorrow is different. This is in Mourinho’s back yard. United, free spending in the summer with Paul Pogba, the world’s most expensive soccer player in their line-up, is ready for their neighbors. And in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they possess a player of sublime talent, exquisite touch and a man whose ego and animosity toward Guardiola, puts Mourinho in the shade.
The sparks will fly with Manchester City finding a scoring groove. Four at Stoke City, five in Bucharest, three past West Ham but crucially, Sergio Kun Aguero, arguably the Premier League’s finish striker, is suspended. Where will City’s offensive invention come from? Iheanacho is a rookie, Sterling a winger which leaves Nolito, the summer signing from Celta Vigo. It won’t strike fear into United hearts.
United have Ibrahimovic, Rooney, Martial and Rashford, with Mkhitaryan to call on. This time, they are the ones who look to have the potent offense.
Mourinho, with home ground advantage and with aerial superiority is set to win only his fourth game against Guardiola in sixteen. This time, take United to win by at least 2.
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LEICESTER CITY AT LIVERPOOL
Saturday’s late kick-off is at Anfield. A brand new grandstand welcomes the defending Premier League champions. Leicester City, last season’s improbable title winners’ travel to Liverpool looking for their first win on the road this campaign.
It’s Liverpool’s first home game of the season and their three away games have been a mixed bag. A 4 – 3 win at Arsenal on the opening day got them off to a flying start but they were stopped in their tracks by Burnley in a 0 – 2 defeat in the Lancashire hills. Hope comes from the composed performance at Spurs where they deserved more than the single point the 1 – 1 draw earned them.
Sadio Mane returns for the Reds and his pace is pivotal for Liverpool, as is Daniel Sturridge’s return to full fitness. The Merseysiders are misfiring in front of goal despite the four scored at the Emirates.
Goals may not be Jurgen Klopp’s biggest problem tomorrow. Emre Can and new boy Ragnar Klavan are both out, heaping the defensive pressure on the midfield and defense.
Leicester City have been as indifferent as Liverpool. The summer’s big loss for them was N’Golo Kante; they miss his midfield presence and are not as compact in defense as last year. Hull City, an absolute shambles off the pitch, found gaps against the Foxes on the opening day and it wasn’t until the last matchday that Leicester finally registered their first win.
Jamie Vardy scored in the 2 – 1 win over Swansea City at the King Power but nobody expects Leicester to retain their crown this year. It will be a surprise if they even finish in the top six but if they want to upset the odds, this is a game they need to win. A lot depends on how well Liverpool contain the flamboyant winger, Riyad Mahrez.
Liverpool won this game by a single goal last season but this is ripe for a surprise. Most likely, a draw at ninety minutes but a good outside bet is Leicester by one.
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