Arsenal

Big Weekend: Manchester derby, depleted Liverpool, Thomas Partey, Chelsea

It’s massive in Manchester where United might simply hope to avoid a humping from City, while Liverpool seek a landmark win at Nottingham Forest, and Chelsea look to regain some trust

Game to watch: Manchester City v Manchester United
United fans have grown used to being wary of derby day. But this one feels like a cross-town trek for a hiding to nothing.

City are doing what City do: easing into their stride before going hell for leather through the business end of the season. They haven’t been as fluent in attack, but they are more resilient in defence and eight wins from nine suggests they are primed to push on and def

Big Weekend: Manchester derby, depleted Liverpool, Thomas Partey, Chelsea
Ian Watson 2 hours ago

It’s a Big Weekend featuring the Manchester derby, Chelsea at Brentford and Liverpool and Forest.
It’s a Big Weekend featuring the Manchester derby, Chelsea at Brentford and Liverpool and Forest.
It’s massive in Manchester where United might simply hope to avoid a humping from City, while Liverpool seek a landmark win at Nottingham Forest, and Chelsea look to regain some trust…

Game to watch: Manchester City v Manchester United
United fans have grown used to being wary of derby day. But this one feels like a cross-town trek for a hiding to nothing.

City are doing what City do: easing into their stride before going hell for leather through the business end of the season. They haven’t been as fluent in attack, but they are more resilient in defence and eight wins from nine suggests they are primed to push on and defend their Treble.

There were some concerns over Erling Haaland’s form. Then he scored five goals, four assisted by Kevin De Bruyne, and no-one seems to be too concerned any more.

Erik ten Hag, though, is a man of many worries. The United manager has already suffered one Etihad annihilation, when Haaland and Phil Foden scored a hat-trick apiece, but that was early enough in his reign for the blame to fall at his players’ feet. Seventeen months and a new regime on, the focus is firmly on Ten Hag.

He’d be right to fret if United were at full-strength, but Ten Hag goes into another derby – three defeats in four in all competitions so far against City – without a fit-for-purpose centre-forward and an injury-ravaged defence.

All logic points to a comfortable City win. Restricting the margin to something respectable might be the best Ten Hag can hope for.

Team to watch: Chelsea
Take your pick here: Chelsea or Newcastle…

Both clubs go into the weekend in similar situations. Each edged past Championship opposition in midweek after humbling outings last week. Newcastle didn’t lay a glove on Arsenal before eking past Blackburn on penalties; Chelsea scored late to see off Leeds at Stamford Bridge after losing the Carabao Cup final to a second-string Liverpool.

The criticism of Newcastle was firm and justified, but Chelsea really copped it. Deservedly so, even if Gary Neville later regretted sticking the boot in quite so hard.

Beating Leeds and moving into the FA Cup quarter-finals was the minimum response required but the Blues need a more sustained rebuttal to the criticism they received, with Mauricio Pochettino firmly in the firing line.

On Saturday lunchtime, he takes his Blues on the short journey to Brentford. The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday highlighted how far Pochettino and his team have to go to regain the faith of Chelsea supporters. That won’t be achieved in Brentford, but they could dig themselves a bigger hole in their near-neighbours’ backyard.

Manager to watch: Jurgen Klopp
In contrast to Pochettino and Chelsea, Klopp and Liverpool are buzzing right now. The high before the low of goodbye in the summer.

In the meantime, the Reds have it all to achieve. They have won their first trophy of the season and maintained their run in another while dealing with a potentially-crippling injury crisis. Can the kids keep it up at Forest to retain their seat at the Premier League summit?

Klopp will be counting the bodies at Melwood before they head to Nottingham on Friday having made do without 14 first-teamers against Southampton in midweek. Many won’t board the bus, but Darwin Nunez, Mohamed Salah, Andy Robertson and Dominik Szoboszlai might.

Their current momentum suggests Klopp need not rush back too many of his senior stars but Liverpool have a poor record at Forest. Never in the Premier League era have they won at the City Ground and Nuno’s side will be scrapping harder than Chelsea, and with more intent than Championship-focused Southampton, which may see the Reds take a more familiar look.

Player to watch: Thomas Partey
“He’s been out for many, many months now,” said Mikel Arteta before revealing that Partey will finally be back for Arsenal’s trip to Sheffield United on Monday night. The question now, though, is: do the Gunners really need him?

Partey was once considered crucial to Arsenal’s prospects – arguably their most important player at times since he joined from Atletico Madrid in 2020. His return from a variety of muscle problems would have ordinarily been seen as a huge boost to their title prospects. But the Gunners seem to have learned how to live without the Ghanian.

Declan Rice’s arrival is a large factor in Partey’s absence not being felt as hard as it might. But so too is Jorginho’s recent form.

So good has the Italian been, Arsenal are reportedly set to offer him a new contract beyond the deal that expires at the end of the season. Jorginho has given Arteta the control he craves in games as well as the leadership Arsenal have been known to lack.

And now, Arteta has depth were not long ago there was none. The manager won’t drop Jorginho, but with Partey now available – for how long, who knows? – the battle for the spot at the base of Arsenal’s midfield is on.

EFL game to watch: Huddersfield v Leeds
West Brom versus Coventry could be huge in the race for the Championship play-offs, but Winty would pull rank if her Terriers didn’t feature ahead of their West Yorkshire derby against Leeds on Saturday lunchtime.

Town remain in the relegation mire, three points above the drop zone but only two ahead of third-from-bottom Stoke. But their current inconsistency is better than what they were serving up prior to the decision to dispose of Darren Moore.

That, and the impact of new manager Andre Breitenreiter ahead of his first home match in charge, could make this a trickier assignment than it appears for Leeds, who took many positives from a midweek cup defeat to Chelsea, but remain laser-focused on chipping further into Leicester’s six-point lead at the top of the table.

European game to watch: Napoli v Juventus
Not much jumps out from the European leagues as a must-watch meeting this weekend. PSG go to Monaco on Friday night for the Mbappe derby and, on Sunday evening, Barcelona go to Athletic Bilbao.

We might flick between that and Juve’s trip to Napoli. The Serie A champions have offered a pitiful defence of their Scudetto and haven’t beaten any of Inter, Milan or Juve in their four attempts so far this season.

But Napoli might have been sparked into life by the appointment of Francesco Calzona. They earned their first win under the new coach on Wednesday evening by looking more like their old selves while thrashing Sassuolo 6-1. The fact Victor Osimhen is back among the goals, with a hat-trick in midweek on Chelsea’s watch and another strike in his other outing since returning from AFCON is ominous for Juve, who are struggling to see Inter for the Nerazzurri’s dust.

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