PREMIER LEAGUE OUTRIGHTS
Manchester City @ 10/11
Chelsea @ 5/2
Liverpool @ 4/1
Manchester United @ 9/1
Things couldn’t have gone much better for Pep and Manchester City last weekend.
He finally got a victory over Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea, it was a win underpinned by tactical nous rather than individual brilliance – so he can justifiably claim it as his win – and the decisive goal was scored by a #9, the position that many so-called experts – *waves* – have highlighted as being a gaping, fathomless lacuna at the bow of the starting XI.
It very much appeared that Pep had had enough of experts, and that reports of his impending demise had been greatly exaggerated.
But following Tuesday evening’s defeat at the silken hands of PSG – where intricate build-up play crumbled to dust as it neared the edge of the box, and crosses wooshed over attacking heads like your uncle’s filthy jokes at a Bavarian Divinity symposium – those briefly submerged concerns quickly floated back to the surface.
In a way, it was a good thing for Pep that Lionel Messi unveiled yet another late-period masterpiece at the Parc de Princes – and I don’t just mean the bit where he lay prostrate behind the wall – because it drew attention away from the existing shortcomings of his own outfit. Even a mere morsel from Messi can easily feed 5000 vulturous football pundits.
Guardiola will be absolutely delighted, then, that yet another stern test awaits for him and his side this weekend, because it will provide another delicious opportunity to shut up the so-called experts. *waves again*.
Liverpool v Manchester City is the final fixture of the weekend, and it will arrive deeply laced with intrigue. Which City team, for example, will turn up at Anfield: the blunt instrument or the whetted scalpel?
Another lingering question could also be answered at this particular juncture, namely: how good is this Liverpool team?
Sure, they devoured The Canaries – who hasn’t? – further gorged on The Eagles, and thirstily washed down a Burney Claret. They saw off a spirited but eventually depleted Leeds, yet could only draw at home against a Chelsea side who were similarly diminished for a full 45 minutes.
And then last weekend witnessed Liverpool put in an uncharacteristically porous performance against The Bees of Brentford – whose hivemind of spirit and relentlessness must sting fans of the wealthier, more established, but clearly lazier sides.
So what’s the deal? Are Liverpool simply flat-track bullies? Or are they still the same vintage that conquered Europe, that wrote history, that ended droughts? Are they still the best? Well, are they?!
I don’t just want answers! I want the truth! And I’m pretty sure I can handle it…
There are a few good men in the current Manchester United XI, but after a brace of iffy, less than cohesive showings, the vultures were quick to hover over Old Trafford. And these aren’t just your average vultures. These are vultures that can talk. Vultures that say things like: ‘Ole needs to be sacked!’ ‘Why isn’t Donny van de Beek playing?!’ and ‘We need a proper manager…like Moyes or van Gaal…or Mourinho!’
I still maintain that Cristiano Ronaldo is principally motivated by a desire to keep Messi away from the headlines, rather than an urge to help out Manchester United. But if the former aids the latter, then there are unlikely to be any complaints.
CR7 scored a late winner against Villareal on Wednesday, despite being largely awful for much of the game; and, in doing so, initiated a cheer so galvanic and loud it caused the circling vultures to flap away, up and off into the dark Trafford night.
But they’ll be back. They have the talons for it.
Possibly by Saturday lunchtime even, where, if you will allow me to end at the beginning, Manchester United entertain Everton in the first Premier League fixture of Gameweek 7.
The pressure is always on at the Theatre of Dreams, but it feels like we are already reaching a stage where there is no time to draw…