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Top 5 this Weekend: Skrtel’s pulling, Hughton’s job, Clash of the underdogs and more…

The latest feature (the first of many new ones on this website) is our way of getting football enthusiasts excited for the weekend. “Top 5 this Weekend” provides you with a list of things you can look forward to this weekend, thus assisting you in helping your football viewing. This feature will be published every Friday, looking ahead to all the football action on the weekend, with a tactical mindset. No more boring previews, no more pointless Friday articles, “Top 5 this Weekend” will satisfy your Friday football reading needs.

Week Two

Last weekend we spoke about Walter Mazzarri’s midfield dominating the midfield in the Milan derby, Sagna & Arteta’s role in the big London derby against Chelsea, the possibility of Allegri & Mackay losing their job(s), Atletico’s push towards the top of La Liga and Bayern’s domination of the World! Some of those came true, other’s not quiet but we were fairly accurate in our assessment. Read last week’s piece here

Bearing that in mind, we have listed out the Top 5 for this weekend. Ofcourse this list has a heavy Premier League tinge to it with all other major leagues on a Winter break.

1) Skrtel’s shirt pulling, and Chelsea’s strikers

Liverpool may have ended up on the losing side at the Etihad on Boxing Day, but they came away with all the plaudits for putting in a fantastic performance. Not only did they attack with a fair degree of effectiveness, they also managed to keep City’s awesome attacking force at bay for large parts. Key to this brilliant rearguard action was one Martin Skrtel. The Slovakian centre back put in a terrific shift defensively, and was one of the best players on show. However, there is a dark side to his game, and that was also on display. Skrtel’s tendency to pull his opponents shirts is something that has become increasingly menacing. He was all over Vincent Kompany in the corner that led to the first goal, and this didn’t change over the course of the game.

If this continues at the Bridge, Liverpool may well have cause to regret his actions, as referees may take note and award the opposition penalty kicks. This is even more of a possibility at the Bridge, against a side led by Jose Mourinho. The Portugese coach is no shrinking violet and will not let up any opportunity to pressure the referee into a favourable decision; added to that, the media have taken note of Skrtel’s shirt pulling, the referee’s are surely going to keep a special eye out.

Coming to the Blues and Mourinho, they have a few issues of their own to focus on before they can worry about Skrtel’s shirt pulling. The Chelsea side of this season have been as sharp in attack as a butter knife, and could do with an in form striker to sort out their goal scoring woes. Boxing Day served to display their deficiencies in that department yet again, as they laboured to a narrow 1-0 victory over Swansea City, with their forward of choice for the day, Eto’o, missing a few gilt edged chances. His place in the starting 11 is likely to be taken up by ex-Liverpool fan favourite, Fernando Torres. The Spaniard hasn’t been in the best of form either, and his outings against Liverpool in the past haven’t been fruitful either.

Chelsea probably need a striker who can take part in build up play along with the attacking midfielders. Eto’o can generally perform this function (almost 80% pass completion in all competitions), but his finishing leaves a lot to be desired. Torres on the other hand tends to drift out of the game a little too often, and creates a gap between the midfield and himself that the opposition can exploit with ease. The alternative is that a motivated Torres can be a handful for any opponent on his own (ask Manchester City). The question is, can Mourinho get him motivated?

2) United’s Right Back Crisis

David Moyes started Rafael and Valencia on the right side of his team for the victory against Hull on Boxing Day, but both of them will be missing the game against Norwich this weekend. Rafael is out injured along with Jones, and Valencia will be missing due to suspension. Chris Smalling can deputise there, but will be available to do so only if Nemanja Vidic can make a return to the starting line up.

This looks like good news for a beleaguered Norwich side. If Manchester United cannot bring Vidic back for this game, they may have to start without a recognised right back, and this would certainly place a bulls eye for Norwich and Chris Hughton in that area. The Canaries will quite possibly place the tricky young Nathan Redmond on the left side of their midfield, and hope for him to exploit this weakness and help Norwich to some much needed points.

3) More Managerial Casualties?

In the last few weeks, the axe was well and truly active, with a number of managers facing the wrath of disgruntled owners. This week, the Premier league may see more casualties with Norwich’s Chris Hughton the next likely candidate

Hughton was given a free reign in the summer and the young gaffer spent a large wad of cash to bring in players like Hooper, Fer and van Wolfswinkel. Much was expected of the Canaries this term, with pundits predicting that Hughton would build on their strong finish to the 2012-13 season on the back of these signings. However, it hasn’t really gone to plan thus far for Norwich, and the team find themselves in 14th, just 3 points away from 18th and a relegation scrap. They may need to look over their shoulder with some seriousness too, as the likes of Crystal Palace and Fulham are beginning to find points. A bad result for Hughton may see the higher management at Norwich close the door on Hughton, and it’s imperative that he get his team to perform.

Mackay on the other hand, was the next manager who was to feature in this piece, but at the time of writing the Scot was relieved of his duties. A move we expected to take place last weekend, until the 3-0 boxing day defeat was too much to handle.

4) Battle of the High Flyers as Lukaku takes on Lovren

Southampton will travel to Goodison Park to face Everton in what should be an excellent game of football. Both sides have done very well this season and have achieved these good results while playing an aesthetically pleasing brand of football too. Everton come into the game on the back of a shock home defeat to Sunderland, and will be looking to get back on track in the chase for European spots, while the Saints seem to have turned a corner after the excellent victory at Cardiff. Among the individual battles to look out for, Lukaku vs Lovren stands out.

The big Belgian has been key to Everton’s attacking play this season. In terms of numbers, he’s weighed in with 8 goals and 3 assists so far, and tactically, his physical presence is so important for the Everton side, who use him to bring their talented trio of midfielders into the game. Importantly, he may be the main man for Everton as they look to counter the press masters of the Premier League. Chelsea showed a few weeks back that playing a big man up front and hitting long balls at him is a very good way to beat Southampton‘s furious pressing, and if Everton look to imitate Mourinho’s men, their resident big man, Lukaku, automatically becomes the main weapon.

The problem with that plan (from an Everton perspective) is Dejan Lovren. The towering Croatian defender has been a smart signing on the part of Pochettino, and a definite improvement on Jos Hooiveld, who was first choice last season. He’s won 3.5 aerial duels a game at an average this season, a very impressive number, and will have to repeat the trick to stop Everton. Lukaku has won around 2.6 aerial duels a game this season, and if he can get the better of Lovren, the likes of Pienaar and Barkley will automatically have a lot more to feed on, and Everton will have an excellent chance of leaving Goodison with 3 points.

5) Hatem Ben Arfa’s return to form

Newcastle United are doing very well in the league at the moment, with 30 points in the kitty. A few more wins could see them threatening the European spots and the teams above them too. This, however, hasn’t always been the case for the Geordies this season. Pardew and co. didn’t have the best start to their season, but they seem to have turned it around of late. They’ve been on a 5 match unbeaten run, of which 4 have been wins, and the striking characteristic of these games has been that their best player, Ben Arfa was left on the bench for most of this run. Prior to the win at Stoke, the French player had played a total of 68 minutes in 4 premier league games where his side picked up 10 points.

It looked like the Geordies were performing better as a unit without their top dog, but Ben Arfa seemingly put all such theories to bed after his majestic performance in the demolition of 9 man Stoke on Boxing Day where he hit the woodwork twice, had an assist, and completed an astounding 12 dribbles. It was however, done against a side with 9 men. The dilemma for Pardew is whether or not to start the man. He has undoubted quality, but his presence may unbalance the side.

Is there anything else that you’re looking forward to this weekend? Drop in a comment below and let us know.

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Vishal Patel

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