The three grudges


Man City @ 1/3
Liverpool @ 6/1
Arsenal @ 11/1
Spurs @ 14/1
Chelsea @ 33/1
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Arsenal @ 2/5
Spurs @ 1/2
Chelsea @ 21/20
Man Utd @ 2/1
Newcastle @ 17/2
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Souness was jaded.  The game he loved had turned soft.  Long gone were the things that brought him warmth: the Achilles scrapes, the two-footed lunges, the moustaches as thick and impenetrable as Cornish hedges – why, he’d even had to sacrifice his own fulsome privet out of fear of appearing ‘dated’.

And he couldn’t even call football ‘a man’s game’ anymore!  Madness!

Unexpectedly, however, on the eve of Gameweek 6, as the miserly pundit sat down to write his resignation letter from broadcasting; Souness was visited by the ghost of Paul Pogba.

He was surprised to see the Juventus midfielder in apparition form; firstly, because he represented everything Souness despised about modern football.  And secondly, because he wasn’t dead.

Pogba urged Souness to wait before writing his letter, for this weekend he would be visited by three historic footballing grudge-matches – each one potentially more violent than the last – and that these encounters would restore his faith in the game with which he had presently fallen out of love.

The first game, set to materialise at 12:30pm on Saturday, was the famous Merseyside Derby: Everton v Liverpool.

Although traditionally known as the ‘friendly derby’, as the gulf of achievement between the two clubs widened from the mid-1980s onwards, the on-pitch hostility intensified.  And, since the creation of the Premier League, this fixture has witnessed more unfriendly red cards (22) than any other.

Everton have only won one Merseyside Derby since 2010; and, despite being at home, they will be significantly unfavoured to win on Saturday.  Frank Lampard has thus far struggled to impose much of an identity upon his side, other than making them a bit ‘stubborn’.

Liverpool will arrive at Goodison Park knowing that the pressure on them to win is already enormous: Arsenal are seven points ahead; Manchester City – a perhaps more daunting – five.

The second Saturday encounter will be with Chelsea v West Ham at 3pm.

The first ever London Derby was Chelsea v Clapton Orient in 1905.  But, again, the bitter friction between Chelsea and West Ham appears to be a more recent development – perhaps triggered by the gobbling of home-grown East London talents, such as Frank Lampard (yes, him again) and Joe Cole, and their subsequent success at Stamford Bridge?

Or perhaps the District Line Derby is testy because the fans become enraged due to the titular transport link being so ridiculously slow?

Finally, Manchester United v Arsenal will appear at 4:30pm on Sunday.

Though billed as Newton Heath v Woolwich Arsenal, the first meeting between the clubs took place on October 13th 1894 – which was also, coincidentally, the same day of the inaugural Merseyside Derby.

But verifiable records of hostilities between the two sides properly began in 1987, with a David Rocastle sending-off.  The first major flash-point occurred in 1990 when Brian McClair decided to kick lumps out of a prone Nigel Winterburn, resulting in a multi-man brawl and points deductions.

And the apogee of aggression between the factions came in 2004 when a contentious clash, which ended Arsenal’s remarkable 49-match unbeaten run, descended into a protracted tunnel scuffle and, according to reports, Sir Alex Ferguson being pelted by a Cesc Fàbregas-propelled piece of pizza.

In recent years the enmity has waned as both clubs inched feebly down the Premier League table – tension diminishing in tandem with the stakes.

But will we see a return to fractious times now that the two teams once again have something significant to defend?  Table-topping Arsenal will hope to maintain their excellent start to the campaign; while Manchester United look to pass another examination of their newfound backline solidity.

Further questions remain unanswered as we head into the weekend: Will there be enough robust masculinity on display to satisfy Graeme Souness?  Why did Paul Pogba, of all people, appear before the Scrooge-like pundit in spirit guise to portend these forthcoming visitations?  Was it, perhaps, a result of his alleged skills in the field of voodoo?  Will all be revealed next week?! (No.)

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