Who will blink first? Who is going to draw first blood? Who is going to steal a march on their rivals in the title race? We should have answers to these questions after week four’s Premier League matches, headlined by the Manchester derby.
The Manchester derby
What a way to resume domestic action after the international break! Friends and foes, supporters and neutrals, all eyes will be on the early kick-off between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday.
The result of this match will not decide the outcome of the title race, but make no mistake about its significance. This match-up is about more than just the bragging rights and the unbeaten records at stake. The much-anticipated Manchester derby is laden with explosive sub-plots, setting the stage for a powder keg.
Subplot 1: Mourinho v Guardiola
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola would have us believe that this match is about their respective teams and not their personal duel. Who are they kidding? There is no love lost between the pair. Their bitter rivalry, which illuminated and blighted the Spanish game in equal measure, is well documented. Saturday marks the start of a new chapter in that rivalry set to play out on English turf for the foreseeable future, with the first battle fought in Mourinho’s backyard on Saturday.
There is nothing to suggest that hostilities between Jose and Pep have thawed since the last time the two locked horns in Spain. Fans might want to keep a keen eye on both the action on the pitch and the antics of the managers on the touchline.
Subplot 2: Zlatan and “the spineless coward”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a miserable time of it at Barcelona, the only blot on his illustrious career. After a promising start to life at Nou Camp playing in his favoured position as the spearhead of the Barca attack the Swede woke up one morning to find himself out of favour. An outcast, at best a bit part player, at worst not even getting a look-in, the striker believed he had been a victim of a conspiracy. Zlatan was convinced Lionel Messi talked Guardiola into tweaking team tactics, a move that resulted in the Swede being shunted out wide with Lionel Messi replacing him in the central role. That was the prelude to the club’s record signing being declared surplus to requirements. To make matters worse, Guardiola hardly spoke to him to explain his omission.
Things came to a head in the dressing room one day and the combustible Zlatan finally exploded. He describes the encounter in his autobiography, I’m Zlatan, thusly: “Guardiola was staring at me and I lost it. I thought, ‘there is my enemy, scratching his bald head!’ I yelled: ‘You haven’t got any b***s!’ and worse than that I added: ‘You can go to hell!’ I completely lost it, and you might have expected Guardiola to say a few words in response, but he’s a spineless coward.”
Needless to say Zlatan has never forgiven Guardiola for the way he treated him at Barcelona. There is nothing Zlatan would love more than to put one over his former boss and condemn the man who almost ruined his career to his first defeat in English football.
Chelsea: Keeping a watching brief
When the final whistle goes at Old Trafford, whatever the outcome of the match, at least one of the derby protagonists will move to the top of the table deposing Chelsea. By the time they leave the Liberty Stadium 24 hours later the Blues could have reclaimed top spot.
Chelsea will be keeping a watching brief on the Manchester derby knowing full well that they could emerge as the biggest beneficiaries of that duel. If United and City cancel each other out and share the spoils and Chelsea win their match at Swansea, then Antonio Conte’s men could find themselves out on their own in front. Should that scenario materialize, the psychological boost for the Blues would be much bigger than the two-point cushion.
The Arsenal midfielder was spoilt for choice before joining Bournemouth on loan. Considering the number of high profile clubs that were keen on his services the 24-year-old’s decision to move to the Vitality Stadium raised a few eyebrows. Yet it would appear there is a method to the ‘madness’. The Cherries’ blend of football is not too dissimilar to Arsenal’s so the England international should have little trouble bedding in and buying into his new club’s philosophy. And could Wilshere be playing at Bournemouth this season under his future manager at Arsenal next term? Eddie Howe continues to be touted as a strong contender for the Gunners job when Arsene Wenger retires.
Speculation aside, the loan move is a great opportunity for the supremely talented midfielder to get some much-needed game time and revive his injury-blighted career, starting with the visit of West Brom on Saturday
Sergio Aguero’s three-match ban, the legacy of his violent conduct during the win over West Ham, means Manchester City will go into the derby shorn of their star striker. Aguero has scored six goals for City in all competitions so far this season. His absence will be a huge miss for the blue half of Manchester.
How will the Citizens cope without the Argentina international? Kelechi Iheanacho could benefit from Aguero’s absence and step into the breach, unless Guardiola decides to move Nolito from out wide into a central role.