Surely it can’t be a coincidence that the fixture list has thrown together huge derby matches in Liverpool and Manchester on the same weekend. The TV companies call the shots so it seems that Sky Sports are behind the scheduling of Liverpool v Everton and Manchester United v Manchester City on Sunday afternoon. In a fixture list of derbies West Ham play Chelsea at home on Saturday but the exception is Leicester’s trip to Newcastle United on the same day.
City are eight points ahead of United in the Premier League so a draw at Old Trafford would be a satisfactory result. A home win would reduce the gap to five points so the match is a true six-pointer. The winning team picks up three points but also prevents their opponents adding to their tally of points. This is correct for any match but is much more significant when it involves teams close together in the table. City have a superior goal difference of 10 goals which is worth an extra point.
The outcome of the match could depend on the thought processes of the City manager and players. Does Pep Guardiola send his team out to avoid defeat and maintain the eight point gap or chase the game and risk losing it? Jose Mourinho would probably take the former route and ensure a point but a man with Barcelona running through his veins may take the more positive approach. City are the best team in the Premier League and have dropped just two points in 15 matches so can win anywhere.
When Sir Alex Ferguson was the manager United often won these crucial matches at home. He took the view that he had the best players who could beat all-comers at their best. United took charge in fixtures of this nature but under Mourinho they have become more passive when avoiding defeat was seen as more important than winning. However, now is the time to be brave and United can keep the Premier League pot boiling by beating City on Saturday. Lose the match and United will not overhaul City at the top of the table.
If City win every other match in the league this season which is unlikely but not impossible there will be a quiz question in years to come. Which was the only team to prevent City winning during the 2017/18 Premier League season? In light of recent events the answer may be surprising because Everton are the only team the champions-in-waiting have failed to beat this season. The Everton side that drew with City at the Etihad in August looked to be going places but it all went pear shaped.
Everton have regrouped and after two wins are now in the top half of the table. However, they are six places and 11 points behind Liverpool who are cock-a-hoop after scoring seven goals against Spartak Moscow in the Champions League. Liverpool are one of five teams to qualify for the knockout stages from the Premier League. It’s the first time ever that a country has provided five teams in the round of the last 16.
Everton’s Europa League campaign has been a disaster. They were already eliminated before Thursday’s last group match away to Apollon Limassol. Due to health reasons Sam Allardyce did not make the trip to Cyprus and some experienced members of the squad did not travel. The result will be meaningless in the context of the Merseyside derby which Liverpool should win. The two home sides can do the double in the Derby Day Spectacular as the Reds are fancied to beat the Blue in both matches.