Manchester United went into this game with a well publicised run of four consecutive losses, and needed a boost, not only to keep them in and amongst the front runners in the Premiership, but to take some pressure off of their manager. Chelsea’s poor first half of the season had cost Mourinho his job, and now the team look to rebuild their campaign under Hiddink. As the team sheets were revealed, we saw that Chelsea had no recognised striker in the squad, with Costa suspended and Remy & Falcao not fit, but the new Blues boss gave nothing much away pre-game. He hinted about the attacking players in his team having freedom in movement and a ‘wait and see’ attitude towards the system, although we assumed Hazard would start the most advanced. United re-called captain Rooney to the starting line-up, as he had an impact from the bench in the last game.
Both teams fielded variants of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Chelsea brought in Zouma for an injured Cahill, and Mikel came in where Fabregas would have taken up position alongside Matic. Willian and Pedro occupied wide positions, with Oscar behind Hazard centrally. United pushed Rooney into a forward role, with Martial out wide on the left and Mata on the right (although he didn’t really stay there). Schweinsteiger came back after his suspension to partner Schneiderlin in the middle, with Darmian and Young as full-backs. Herrera was the one who was put into the number 10 role behind Rooney. Depay and Fellaini were the main two that Van Gaal could look to on the bench to come on if needed and impact the game, and Hiddink was even more limited – with Ramires the most experienced dice to role.
Early United pressure
From the kick-off, Man United started the much brighter team, and it was pretty clear they wanted to make an impression with more urgency – you could tell that it wasn’t an ordinary game for them. The first major chance came via a nice pass inside from Rooney to Mata on the right, no one was tight enough to Mata who got a shot away that smashed into the frame of the goal and away to safety. From that, Martial had his first exchange with Darmian on the opposite wing, which lead to a cross and eventually out for a corner. The pressure was broken up slightly by a Chelsea attack, when Blind slipped and Hazard got a cross in – strangely enough it was Young being the only United man in the middle to stop it reaching Pedro, who was in acres of space coming in at the back post. From the resulting corner, De Gea made a fantastic reaction save to deny Terry scoring a powerful header. United’s aerial defence from balls into their area was questionable all game, although Chelsea never really took advantage of this, and on this occasion it was Rooney who was closest to Terry, but never matching his run.
Chelsea didn’t make it a priority to close down the United players in their half, which allowed time and space to players on the ball. Blind carried it over the halfway-line on one occasion as Hazard and Oscar stood and watched, the ball eventually was worked out to Young on the right in an advanced position. Possibly more dangerously, Chelsea neglected to mark Schweinsteiger and/or Schneiderlin on several occasions, allowing them space to operate. This in turn meant that they had the option and freedom to bring more players into play – notably the wide men (pic below). Rooney was dropping deep at times, as he does, to try and get involved with the play more, but this drew him into Matic and Mikel’s territory. United’s main threat appeared to be down the left hand side with Martial and Darmian on the wing. A comparison we can make here is with what we saw in Arsenal’s win over Manchester City a few days ago. Koscielny would come out of defence with the ball, and look to play it in to Ozil along the floor, who would get between the lines and drift out to the left to receive it. In tonight’s case, Blind came forward slightly, and played the ball into Rooney who came deep between the lines, but was followed by Zouma. United weren’t really allowed to dictate any meaningful attacks from this central area (which may have been different if it was Fabregas instead of Mikel there), although they were allowed to use this area to spread the play out wide from. Ozil had space to operate in that and find a more direct route to goal, as Toure had offered this by not tracking back, whereas Mikel and Matic were more defensive minded and spatially aware. However, just after Blind’s ball into Rooney was returned to him, the Dutchman came forward again and found the much more penetrative route down the outside left to Darmian, who had space open up by Martial’s clever run inside.
Set up as being one of the biggest matches in the title race so far this season, Manchester City travelled to the Emirates with no win and only one goal in the previous four away league matches. They lined-up in what was effectively a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Silva playing in the number 10 role behind Aguero. Toure and Fernandinho occupied the central midfield positions and, somewhat surprisingly, Delph and De Bruyne were the wide men. Looking to close the gap to Leicester at the top, Arsenal fielded a similar shape, but with more traditionally advanced wingers in Walcott and Campbell. Ozil continued behind Giroud, with Ramsey and Flamini holding in the middle.
Arsenal started with some early possession, as the game began at a pretty slow tempo. It was understandably cagey, with a lot riding on the result for both teams, and neither wanting to give a psychological boost to the other in leaving gaps open at the start of the game. A main talking point was Pellegrini’s decision to start Delph on the left instead of Sterling. Some saw this as a negative move, but it was one that helped keep Bellerin contained in the first half, and ended up forcing most of Arsenal’s attack down the other flank. Even at 4 minutes into the game, you could see Toure pointing to Delph and the gesturing to the space he needed to cover down the left – an area that the manager had clearly highlighted to them before the game. City had a couple of chances to find a route to goal, with De Bruyne running with the ball through the middle early on and and then a cut back on Silva on the edge of the box who shot over. The Spanish playmaker found himself with a fair amount of time on the ball on that occasion, but this was a rarity throughout most of the game, as he was closely marshalled by Flamini, and the Arsenal defence were generally good at holding their shape – not allowing Silva to drift between the lines to affect the play. Flamini was seen on several occasions pointing and organising his team in front of him when on the back-foot. It seemed to work pretty well, and although Ramsey came deep to collect the ball, he was the one who looked forward, while Flamini was holding as opposed to being fully box-to-box.
A common occurrence in the opening periods of the game was Koscielny moving out of defence with the ball, over the halfway line, and looking to play straight passes into the front-men (shown below). Often this would be Ozil finding space in front of City’s defence and losing the attachment of Toure by drifting left. We saw it at least four times in the first 25 minutes – Koscielny picking up the ball and moving forward, then looking to try and find someone in the final third to slot the ball to. It was an effective transition between defence and attack, and one that was able to offer a direct route to goal with Ozil being able to receive the ball, turn and pass without being pressured into a mistake. It was a bit surprising that Pellegrini didn’t do more to suppress the threat of Ozil’s movement, but Toure wasn’t disciplined or deep enough to stick to him, and as much as Otamendi likes to engage the ball and be pro-active, his focus was usually Giroud. A makeshift option may have been to switch Toure and Fernandinho to allow the latter to try and block that ball that Koscielny was consistently looking for. However, by 33 minutes it was too late, as Arsenal exploited this route for the first goal. Interestingly enough, Fernandinho was actually over that side of the pitch this time, but not quite far enough to cover off Ozil, who received Koscielny’s pass to feet, turned and passed. Walcott picked it up and bent a fantastic strike inside the far post to put the home team in front.
Newport County vs Morecambe @2.69
First of all, these seem like crazy odds for a Morecambe side going along pretty well in 6th place in League 2 having won their last 2 games, against a Newport side who are bottom of the league and lost 5/6 matches so far. The home side lost 3-0 in front of the home fans to York last week and defended very poorly when the goals started going in. Morecambe, who have looked good in front of goal recently, will have a nice day if the home side repeat what happened last time out. A -1 handicap on the away side might not be a bad bet here, as we have seen the defensive frailties of Newport and the attacking capabilities of Morecambe, and at around 5/1 for Morecambe -1 this is very good value. For a bit more context – Morecambe are a better team that York, who smashed Newport 3-0 last week. Team news suggests that Newport have a couple of injuries and a defender suspended after getting sent off last week. Morecambe with no new injury worries or suspensions. I cannot see why Newport are slight favourites here. If they turn their form around and get a good result here then fair play, but I can see no reason for that to happen today.
Ingolstadt vs Wolfsburg @1.95
The newly promoted home side have started the season well, with two wins, and lie in mid-table. However, their approach seems to lend itself to playing well away from home – and both of their wins have been 1-0 away victories. The game they lost was against Dortmund at home, and that wasn’t pretty ending 4-0. You would say that it is harsh to criticise Ingolstadt for a heavy loss to a Dortmund team who have look very impressive, but Wolfsburg should be aiming at a similar level and will look to pose a similar threat. They come off the back of an exciting 3-0 win over Schalke, and despite the loss of Kevin de Bruyne, appear to have a talented squad to continue their good fortunes of last season. New additions Draxler and Dante could start. As we saw with Paderborn last season, a good start from a newly promoted team can be deceptive and reliant on a predictable style of play, or complacent opponents. Wolfsburg will be eager to keep up the pace with Dortmund and Bayern and look to get into good form. Dropped points here would be unacceptable for Dieter Hecking, and as long as his side don’t fall victim of counter-attacks, they should find space like Dortmund did and overcome Ingolstadt.
Sheffield Wednesday @1.54 vs Mansfield
The home side had a good start to their season with a 2-0 win on the weekend, with a tricky fixture against the promoted League 1 champions. After a solid mid-table Championship performance last year, Wednesday will be looking for a good start to the cup and another impressive performance in front of the home fans. The last thing they will be expecting is a loss to a Mansfield side who are two divisions below them. The away team struggled with a home draw against Carlisle in their opening league fixture. Wednesday, in good form, in front of their home fans, two divisions above their opposition – would think about -1 handicap @2.30, don’t know how intent on scoring multiple goals the home side will be though (they might take it a bit easy with a game on the weekend etc).
Swindon @1.69 vs Exeter
Swindon’s pre-season form was slightly deceptive as they played 4 Premier League teams at home before their opening game… losing all of them. They are generally pretty impressive at home in the league as a rule and, despite dropping off at the end of last season, go into this campaign as 4th favourites for the title. They beat Bradford 4-1 in their opening game, despite going behind early on, and will look to follow this up with another win in the cup to gain momentum to their season. Exeter, who finished mid-table in League 2 last season, started their campaign well with a 3-2 win over Yeovil, thanks to a late goal. However, they are yet to demonstrate their away form this season, and a trip to the County Ground will be tough for them. Exeter also went out of the League Cup and FA Cup in round one last season. Their form came in patches last season in the league – suggesting they benefit greatly from a run of good results to build up momentum to a big game like this, which might be why they had a poor cup run last season, as they started without a win in their first 7 league games then. Their win against Yeovil on the weekend will come as a positive, but League 1 side Swindon should really be too strong for them.
Nottingham Forest @1.78 vs Walsall
Forest lost their opening Championship game on the weekend to Brighton, but they really weren’t too far off the pace against a relatively tough ground to go to. They will most likely be mid-table possibly challenging for promotion again this season, and have a decent squad to compete in the Championship. They should go into this game looking to kick off a cup run and hopefully get things back on track for their next league game, because they know they have a talented squad and should be desperate to not underperform again. First competitive game at home is like a second start to the season and a chance to get the fans behind them. Walsall, on the other hand, are an average League 1 side at best, and suffered a miserable start to the season last year. They shouldn’t really have the quality to beat Forest away from home here, but it could depend if Dougie Freedman wants to get their season going here or take it easy and potentially give Walsall a chance to frustrate the home side. I still think the gap in quality between the two sides, plus home advantage early in the season, is big enough to make the odds on Forest seem decent. Forest -1 is @2.82 currently, which could be a decent shout if the home side want to prove a point, but in the cup I’d probably leave handicap for this one.
Bolton vs Derby @2.05
Derby were one of the best teams in the Championship for large parts of last season, just tailing off at the end and narrowly missing out on a playoff place by 1 point. They’ve had a good summer, bought in exciting faces like Tom Ince, Darren Bent and Andreas Weimann, along with having some good pre-season results. The Rams are a lot of people’s picks for automatic promotion this season and are 7/4 to go up. Bolton haven’t got the same level of quality in their squad and have struggled in recent times in the Championship. They have been left short in the goal-scoring department for the new season with no Le Fondre and no Gudjohnsen, and appear to be struggling slightly for fitness going into the first game against Derby here. Wouldn’t go for Derby -1 here, purely because its the first game of the season and they are away from home.
Hull @1.70 vs Huddersfield
Although being a relegated side going into the new season is never easy, Hull look to have retained some of their key players, and go into this match at home with the better team on paper. Huddersfield, who lost their opening game last season 4-0 to promoted Bournemouth, finished the campaign in 16th. They don’t look like a solid team who are yet ready to challenge for promotion, and starting the season away at Hull is a tough ask. The quality of Hull should be too much here, although it will be interesting to see the transition between Premiership and Championship for Bruce’s team who will be looking to get off to a winning start here at home.
– West Ham gain additional Europa League qualifying spot through finishing top of the English fair play table
– Sampdoria currently take rivals’ Genoa’s Europa League qualifying spot due to financial regulations
– All-round lower scoring season compared to previous one across all 4 leagues
– More card shown compared to previous season, around 8.5% more yellows
– Dominance of Barcelona & Real Madrid, particularly in goalscoring. Also the superiority of the champions of the other 3 (Chelsea, Bayern & Juve) over their respective leagues
– Close relegation battles in 3 out of the 4 leagues, coming down to the last day. Reasonably unified figure across all 4 leagues of around 35-38 points to stay up.
– Augsburg making Europa League football finishing 5th, despite losing 15/34 games. Dortmund also making the Europa League qualifiers, despite being bottom at one stage around Christmas. The resurgence of Wolfsburg, and contrasting fortunes of Hamburg who managed to stay up through a dramatic late goal and extra-time winner against Karlsruher.
– Lazio’s second half of the season, challenging Roma for 2nd place, only to lose out in the Derby. The poor display from both Milan clubs, Inzaghi’s side in particular, both missing out on European places. The financial struggles and effective collapse of Parma, under the mismanagement and neglect of their owner.
– The form of Valencia and Sevilla, pushing Atletico for 3rd, with the former gaining the 4th Champions League spot.
– Chelsea’s dominance of the Premier League. Manchester United’s return to the top 4 at the expense of Liverpool. Newcastle’s incredible poor run of form, almost resulting in their relegation. Aston Villa’s inability to score goals for extended periods of time. Harry Kane hype.
Ipswich @2.00 vs Rotherham
Ipswich are on a good run of three wins on the bounce in the Championship, and will be looking to another home win here to push them further into the promotion places. Rotherham, on the other hand, have been struggling of late and look slightly beleaguered as they search for their first win in 5 this weekend. They were promoted last season from League One, and made a respectable start to this campaign, but have faded since and face some hard work to turn things back around. Evens seems like a generous price for an in-form Ipswich who should name an unchanged side from their victory at Wigan as they look to push for the opposite end of the table to their visitors.
Nottingham Forest @2.20 vs Brighton
Forest look like an accomplished Championship side this year, genuine contenders for promotion. They are unbeaten this season and have shown that they can score plenty of goals at home, with Assombolonga already on 8 for the season. Pearce’s side still remain top of the table, despite two draws in their last 3 games, but should be looking to get a decent win under their belt at home against a patchy Brighton side. Despite the home side’s 3-1 loss to Spurs in the Cup in midweek, they looked like they had the potential to play good football and threaten on the break even against a top tier side. Brighton are without a win in the last 4 games, and although they have shown quality at times, they look out of form and in no shape to be travelling to Forest this weekend hoping for a win. A good away win at Burton in the cup midweek will lift their spirits slightly, but going to the City Ground in search of a result is a different matter. This looks like a fantastic price for a Forest home win.
Paderborn vs Monchengladbach @2.10
Paderborn have got off to a flying start this season after gaining promotion in the summer. They went unbeaten in their first four games, finding themselves temporarily top of the league at one stage. Bayern rained on their parade in the last match, beating them 4-0, but Paderborn will still be upbeat about their start. Monchengladbach will also be happy with how their campaign has begun, remaining unbeaten. They have a stronger and fuller squad this year, and will be looking at challenging for the European places once again. They will offer a stern test for the newly promoted side, one in which they have only really encountered once so far, which ended in a heavy defeat. For as well as they have played so far, Paderborn will still be dicing with relegation come the end of the season, according to the bookies, and the visitors will be looking at games like this as three points for the taking against an inexperienced team.
Freiburg vs Leverkusen @1.80
Freiburg have had a poor start to the season, going 5 games without a win, with only 3 points on the board. They have proven they can score goals, netting 3 against Hoffenheim and 2 against Hertha, but they haven’t been able to secure three points in these games. They miss Mehmedi despite the goals, and will have to do without the suspended Darida for the visit of Leverkusen. Schmidt goes into the game with his side sitting in 4th in the table, their only real blip in the season coming at Wolfsburg recently. Aside from that, they have looked good, with a notable victory at Dortmund and players such as the returning Bellarabi and new addition Calhanoglu performing well. They will go into the game with confidence, looking for all three points to help them continue their quest up the table for another Champions League place. I think they will be too much for Freiburg and their individual talent will come out on top at the Mage Solar Stadion.
Malaga vs Barcelona : Barcelona -1 @1.85
Barca are yet to concede a goal after winning their opening 4 games, and come into this match off the back of a 5-0 win away from home. Malaga on the other hand have struggled somewhat, and will not see this as a good time to be playing the league leaders, 3 games without a win. It is difficult to see the home side conceding, especially not more than 1 goal, and you’d expect them to score at least 2 themselves with the likes of Messi and Neymar ready to start in attack.
Dortmund vs Stuttgart : Dortmund -1 @2.00
Stuttgart have been really poor this season so far, with only 1 point. They come to the Signal Iduna at a time when the home side will want to bounce back from their loss to Mainz and will probably field a slightly stronger team, with Immobile & Kagawa looking for starts. I think evens is a good price for a Dortmund team who is very capable of scoring goals against the side who are bottom of the table and lost the last 3 by 2 goals.
Parma vs Roma : Roma @2.05
Roma are yet to concede a goal in their opening three games, winning them all, although maybe not in supremely confident fashion. They will be slightly light at the back with a couple of injury doubts, however they have strength in depth now – more so than last season – and should cope. Parma have been hit and miss so far, gaining their first win against Chievo last time out, but conceding 5 against Milan and losing to newly promoted Cesena. Their main attacking threat is Cassano, and the pace of Biabiany (who is missing tonight). Paletta will also miss out, and the home side may struggle to contain Roma as Garcia’s men could dominate the ball. Parma always have the potential for an upset, but evens seems good value for Roma here.
Tottenham vs Nottingham Forest : Forest @6.00
Spurs have been poor recently, without a win in 4 games, and suffering an embarrassing 1-0 home defeat to West Brom on the weekend, with only 1 shot on target. They will likely field a weaker side tonight, and will not go into the game with any momentum. Forest, on the other hand, will probably put out a strong team and look to cause an upset here. Despite their 0-0 draw with fellow Championship high flyers Millwall on the weekend, the away side are unbeaten this season and have shown their goalscoring prowess. With forest @6.00 here, it seems like great value for a team who despite being a division below, are playing good football and will be more than up for the fight here this evening.
Peterborough @1.7 vs Notts County
Table toppers Peterborough have been fantastic this season, their only loss coming to a decent Sheffield United side in a narrow 2-1. They score plenty of goals and a re typically very good against teams below them. Notts County haven’t been terrible this season by any means, but are yet to get a result against any sides in the same sort of form as their opponents this weekend. I think home advantage might not count for as much here as some games this weekend, but Peterborough have the quality to win this game comfortably. I think County could do OK this season, but they won’t be fighting against teams like the Posh.
Luton vs Cheltenham @2.9
After reaching 101 points in the conference last season and thus gaining promotion, many tipped Luton to do much better than they have been in this year’s campaign. They’ve only scored 4 goals int he League, and sit in 20th having not won since the opening day. They lost to Plymouth and Shrewsbury in their recent fixtures, and you would expect Cheltenham to offer an even greater threat. The away side have been on a great run, unbeaten so far, and sit 2nd in the table. None of their wins have been overly convincing, with all 4 coming by a single goal margin, but look like they have enough to beat Luton at great odds here.
Telford vs Barnet @1.6
Barnet are the form team in the Conference, they’ve scored 21 goals in their 8 games and have won 7. The likes of MacDonald, Cook and Akinde at times look too good to be playing in this division. Telford on the other hand are poor, and sit second bottom without a win so far this season and only 2 points. It would really be an unexpected result if the away side didn’t win here. Barnet -1 is @2.5 which seems like good value for a team that can easily score goals in this division away from home, against a team who have conceded the second most in the division.