Champions League hits and misses
Liverpool and Manchester City secured comfortable wins in their Champions League ties on Tuesday before Chelsea and Manchester United really turned on the style the following evening. Here, we pick out some of the key talking points…
Summer business could bite Liverpool; fringe players miss chance to shine
Liverpool have gone a long way to emulating the success of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in recent years, playing scintillating football en route to a Premier League title last season as the Blues had 12 months before.
Where Jurgen Klopp might have done well not to follow his league-winning predecessor is getting caught out at the back. Just as City were left to rue the decision not to replace Vincent Kompany last summer, who thought the departure of Dejan Lovren would now leave Liverpool ruing their luck with Klopp openly admitting he will pick between one of three untested youngsters to partner Joe Gomez against West Ham on Saturday.
Yes, Rhys Williams looked a safe pair of hands for an hour against Midtjylland. But this is not a side of the quality Liverpool will face in any Premier League game this season.
Klopp admitted after the game he faces a likely choice between Williams, fellow youngster Nathaniel Phillips or 17-year-old Billy Koumetio – who has made only one appearance above U18 level – to line up alongside Gomez this weekend. Any Premier League side would find that a struggle, let alone a team looking to retain their league crown.
Yes Liverpool have been unlucky to be struck down in the one position they were least prepared to fill, and Klopp has made a valid defence of the difficulties of keeping four top-class centre-backs happy. But when three injuries take Klopp from arguably the world’s best defender to a 19-year-old without a Premier League appearance to his name, it would be wrong for questions not to be asked.
Other issues lay elsewhere in Tuesday’s laboured victory. While Williams was providing an impressively calm stand-in performance in defence, at the other end of the pitch Liverpool’s swapped-out front three of Xherdan Shaqiri, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi were floundering, with the latter two hooked after an hour.
Shaqiri rescued an otherwise unproductive performance with a major part in the opening goal but Klopp will have been given little reassurance he can count on any of the trio to fulfil a long-term role should injury hit his regular front three in anywhere near the same manner as it has his defensive ranks.
Sat Oct 31: West Ham (h)
Tues Nov 3: Atalanta (a)
Sat Nov 7: Man City (a)
Wed Nov 25: Atalanta (h)
Sat Nov 28: Brighton (a)
Tues Dec 1: Ajax (h)
Sat Dec 5: Wolves (h)
Wed Dec 9: FC Midtjylland (a)
Sat Dec 12: Fulham (a)
Walker is City’s Mr Consistent
Throughout this injury-hit and unpredictable start to the season, one thing has remained consistent for Manchester City.
Kyle Walker has started every match for Pep Guardiola’s side, and according to the City manager, is in his best form since arriving at the club in 2017.
In Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Marseille, Walker was again energetic, professional and inventive down the right flank, not afraid to go narrow into central midfield against a French side happy to, well, do nothing.
That move inside is a comfortable one for Walker, and something Guardiola wants in games where City have the majority of the ball against a low block. That versatility has also seen Gareth Southgate opt for Walker at centre-back for England.
Perhaps most importantly, Guardiola says Walker is the type to be able to play every three days, a necessity in this season of all seasons. The 30-year-old’s fitness cannot be questioned, and nor can his leadership; “his influence is huge,” Pep also said.
His place looked under threat when Joao Cancelo joined last summer for an eye-watering £60m, but Walker seems to be Pep’s one constant throughout his time at the Etihad. On this evidence, he has plenty left in the tank.
Man City fixtures
Sat Oct 31: Sheff Utd (a)
Tues Nov 3: Olympiakos (h)
Sat Nov 7: Liverpool (h)
Wed Nov 25: Olympiakos (a)
Sat Nov 28: Burnley (h)
Tues Dec 1: Porto (a)
Sat Dec 5: Fulham (h)
Wed Dec 9: Marseille (a)
Sat Dec 12: Man Utd (a)
Rashford stars and Pogba reminds
Marcus Rashford had been rested for the game against RB Leipzig but he finished it with the match-ball after coming off the bench to score a hat-trick in Manchester United’s 5-0 win over the Bundesliga leaders. What a time this is for the 22-year-old forward.
But before Rashford’s latest heroics, aided by Bruno Fernandes’ exemplary vision, it was the performance of Paul Pogba that caught the eye for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. The midfielder was back in the United starting line-up for the first time since that defeat to Tottenham, having been on the bench for three games since that miserable showing.
He had offered glimpses of his quality in those games – particularly at Newcastle – but this was a real reminder of the role that he can play, especially if Solskjaer uses him in this particular system. Pogba has struggled as one of two deeper-lying midfielders but on the left of the diamond, he looked much more at home. Will we see him again against Arsenal?
Man Utd fixtures
Sun Nov 1: Arsenal (h)
Wed Nov 4: Istanbul Basaksehir (a)
Sat Nov 7: Everton (a)
Tues Nov 24: Istanbul Basaksehir (h)
Sat Nov 28: Southampton (a)
Wed Dec 2: PSG (h)
Sat Dec 5: West Ham (a)
Tues Dec 8: RB Leipzig (a)
Sat Dec 12: Man City (h)
Solid Chelsea turn on the style
After not one but two six-goal thrillers in which his Chelsea team were forced to settle for a point, a chastened Frank Lampard had responded by tightening up his defence. But after those back-to-back goalless draws against Sevilla and Manchester United, he will be even happier to see his team back among the goals while keeping them out at the other end.
Krasnodar were an intermittent threat during Chelsea’s 4-0 win on Wednesday night but Lampard’s side, without Thiago Silva, still managed to stand firm with Edouard Mendy keeping his fourth consecutive clean sheet. Goals from Callum Hudson-Odoi, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic made for an emphatic scoreline.
The Ziyech goal, his first for the club on his full debut, coupled with Pulisic’s effort, mean that 13 different players have found the net for Chelsea already this season. It is an indication of the array of attacking talent at the club. If Lampard can eliminate some of the defensive mistakes, and recent evidence suggests he can, then, despite an underwhelming start, perhaps he has the firepower at his disposal to do something special this season after all.
Sat Oct 31: Burnley (a)
Wed Nov 4: Rennes (h)
Sat Nov 7: Sheff Utd (h)
Tues Nov 24: Rennes (a)
Sat Nov 28: Tottenham (h)
Wed Dec 2: Sevilla (a)
Sat Dec 5: Leeds (h)
Tues Dec 8: FK Krasnodar (h)
Sat Dec 12: Everton (a)