By Steve McMahon
By Steve McMahon
Buoyed by their recent mauling of Wigan, Manchester United will go into this weekend's game against Liverpool full of enthusiasm and confidence. The emphatic win as well as the contributions of new signings Alexander Buttner and Nick Powell, both of whom got on the scoresheet, would have pleased Red Devils manager Alex Ferguson.
Javier Hernandez gave a good account of himself too, but I am not sure he has done enough to convince the Scot to start him against Liverpool, with the likes of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney waiting in the wings.
Unlike the Mexican, Buttner's performance has warranted him an opportunity to take the pitch at Anfield. While some may argue that the experience of Patrice Evra may prove useful against United's traditional rivals, the Frenchman has been poor for the Red Devils so far, often their weakest link in defence.
Buttner proved in the Wigan game that he was more than capable of moving up to support the attack on top of his defensive duties. Although not a finished article, he deserves more playing time to achieve his potential.
Brendan Rodgers' side will set out to dominate possession in their pass-and-move style, but they will not find it easy against United. Packed with strong midfield talent of their own, Ferguson's team will not allow the Reds to dictate play.
United's speedy attackers will look for every opportunity to hit Liverpool on the break, and pace has been lacking in the Liverpool defence. The Reds could make up for it if they stay compact, but Rodgers' possession football requires his players to find space. As such, the rear-guard is often spread too thin, exposing Pepe Reina's goal.
The Spaniard has not been in good form this season, struggling for form from the start. Reina must pray that his defence to stays focused throughout the game, or he will end up picking the ball from the back of the net a few times.
Game-changing players for both sides are likely to be found in the striking department. Van Persie has plenty of experience scoring against Liverpool, with Reds supporters unlikely to forget his strike for Arsenal last season that denied their team a deserving three points. Heroic in a similar capacity last weekend, Luis Suarez's industry and intelligence will be vital if Liverpool are to stay on par with the Red Devils.
The other big match-up in this round sees Manchester City welcome Arsenal, two teams that have vastly different defensive records.
Thanks to the efforts of Steve Bould, Arsenal can now count on their defence as a pillar of strength, with the Gunners having conceded only one goal in the Premier League so far. Long has Arsene Wenger's squad been known for its attacking displays, and they deserve praise for fortifying the rear-guard this season.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, City have been poor defensively, as evidenced by the six goals they have leaked domestically and the three strikes Real Madrid recorded against them in the Champions League.
Although Arsenal's attacking roster of Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Gervinho is not quite comparable to Real's start-studded line-up, I believe Mancini should do away with his three-man defensive gamble this weekend. The Italian should revert to the dependable four-man backline that won him the title, as they cannot afford to endure another disappointing loss on the back of their defeat to Los Blancos.
Steve McMahon's BPL Predictions (Sep 22 - Sep 23)
Saturday, September 22, 2012
Swansea City 1-2 Everton (HT: 0-1)
Chelsea 2-0 Stoke City (HT: 1-0)
Southampton 1-1 Aston Villa (HT: 1-0)
West Bromwich Albion 2-1 Reading The Hawthorns (HT: 1-0)
West Ham United 2-1 Sunderland Upton Park (HT: 1-0)
Wigan Athletic 1-2 Fulham (HT: 0-1)
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Newcastle United 3-1 Norwich City (HT: 1-0)
Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 Queens Park Rangers (HT: 1-0)
Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United (HT: 0-0)
Liverpool will entertain arch rivals Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday still looking to pick up their first win of the Barclays Premier League season. If that was not motivation enough for the Merseysiders, this will be the first time these two English giants will meet following the recent Hillsborough revelations which absolved Liverpool fans of blame for the stadium disaster.
Supporters from both clubs do have a history of trading ugly chants on the terraces with each other about Hillsborough and United's Munich air disaster.
"It's a war almost [when Liverpool plays Manchester United]" said Steve McMahon.
"Liverpool have changed their style a bit but it is still going to be ferocious. The undercurrent between Evra and Suarez, Hillsborough, Munich; even if you take all of that out of the equation, something [controversial] always happens."
"It's the biggest game in world football."
Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal (1-0)
Arsenal travel to Manchester City on Sunday in good spirits having followed up last Saturday's 6-1 win over Southampton in the Premier League with a 2-1 away win against Montpellier in the UEFA Champions League in midweek. On the other hand, Arsenal's opponents Manchester City drew last weekend at Stoke and were beaten by a last-gasp Cristiano Ronaldo goal in a 3-2 defeat to Real Madrid on Wednesday.
Despite the form book, Steve McMahon is tipping the English champions to capitalise on home advantage to beat the Gunners on Sunday.
"Arsenal have made a good start to the season but Manchester City have made the Etihad Stadium into a real fortress," McMahon said.
He also believes that City will not suffer any European hangover from their heart-breaking mid-week loss to Real Madrid in midweek.
"Quite the opposite. It [the defeat in Madrid] will galvanise them."