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Let’s get back to business.
Following an international break littered with goalless draws, we’re getting into the thick of the Premier League. Saturday kicks off with a north London scuffle, and concludes with a rivalry between two old blokes who should really know better. In between those bouts, David Unsworth tries to get a permanent home and stay warm for the winter – and that has nothing to do with him broadening his abundant waistline, Joey Barton.
Here are three things to watch in the Premier League this weekend:
Mourinho vs. Benitez
For two managers whose careers are so intertwined, it’s surprising that their last on-pitch meeting was a 1-1 draw between Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea way back in August 2007. Fernando Torres and Frank Lampard scored that day.
The rivalry between this pair is so grubby that Benitez’s wife Montse is embroiled in it. She suggested in 2015 that Rafa tends to clean up the messes Mourinho leaves at big clubs, and the Portuguese retorted by suggesting she should concentrate on taking care of her rotund husband’s diet. Petty stuff.
The employment statuses of both men today indicate Mourinho is the clear victor. While he chucks the cash around at Manchester United and flirts with the prospect of spending even more at Paris Saint-Germain, Benitez is forced to scrimp and save while Mike Ashley tries to flog Newcastle United.
The Magpies’ away record is dismal, and United’s home return is a stunning contrast. It’s hard to envision anything other than Mourinho bothering Benitez on Saturday, and the Red Devils are well-stocked considering the possible returns of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Marcos Rojo from their respective injuries.
Everton stuck with Unsworth?
Is this a final audition for Unsworth to take the helm on a permanent basis, or will Saturday be a rather awkward and very public breakup?
Everton‘s alleged efforts to bring Watford‘s Marco Silva aboard have been well-documented yet fruitless, and so far it’s pretty obvious that there was no set plan in place when getting rid of Ronald Koeman in October. Just look at the reported managerial targets for the Toffees: in one corner are shrewd and adaptable tactics championed by bosses like Diego Simeone, Guus Hiddink, and Silva; in the other corner is unfashionable defence-first football with a tendency to bypass the midfield with long balls – something that Sam Allardyce and Sean Dyche have become synonymous with.
Despite unsuccessfully toying with a false nine against Lyon, Unsworth seems to more closely align with the old-school camp. He likes to select a focal point in attack to corral aerial and direct deliveries – a job often unsuitably left to Dominic Calvert-Lewin – and lends advice from veteran coach Joe Royle, who is a man manager and wheeler-dealer from the 1990s, not an enterprising, modern tactician.
Saturday’s trip to Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace could be a scrappy, physical affair – especially when you consider Unsworth’s call for his team to be “flying into tackles,” and to be “brave and positive.”
But this is a time for survival at Everton, not aesthetics. If a legitimate candidate doesn’t emerge soon, Unsworth could be mucking in at the helm until next summer.
Can Tottenham disarm the Gunners?
Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Harry Winks, and Hugo Lloris are all in contention to play in Saturday’s north London derby at the Emirates, no doubt laying waste to optimistic forecasts from some Arsenal supporters. There’s undoubtedly been a change of the guard between these foes over the past couple of years, so the pressure will be on the visitor to exert this still-new superiority, especially with this talented quartet in tow.
But it’s unwise to frivolously write off the Gunners. On paper a back-three would appear to be the most sensible foundation to field against Tottenham Hotspur‘s ferocious counter-attack, and Mauricio Pochettino’s side suffers from creative block at times. If Wilfried Zaha netted after rounding Paulo Gazzaniga, Crystal Palace may have got something against a below-par Spurs before the international break, and doubts prevail after Manchester United lurked before pouncing late for a 1-0 win in October.
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