Arsenal v Manchester City
Danny Welbeck makes a quick return to Manchester as a definite starter for his new club Arsenal in the first televised match of the weekend against Manchester City. The ex-United forward now has a great opportunity for his club and country to play in his favoured position down the middle. His two goals for England against Switzerland on Monday augur well for Arsenal and the national team.
Welbeck is from Manchester and typical of a locally born academy player in that he was given an opportunity by United at a relatively early age. The club renowned for producing the Class of 92 seem to have forgone that identity in a gamble to get back into the Champions League. Club stalwart and TV pundit Gary Neville has accused his former club of losing control in the transfer market. Conversely Ryan Giggs believes the club will never lose the propensity to blood young players.
Arsenal have got the best side of the deal by signing Welbeck for £16 million in an era when fullbacks can cost almost twice as much. He’s a banker to score on his return to Manchester in a fixture that brings together two of the four wealthiest clubs in the Premier League. City only lost to Chelsea at home in the league last season and Arsenal would take a draw and head back south now.
Last season was a huge success for Manchester City and to win two trophies was an impressive achievement for Manuel Pellegrini. For City fans the manner in which it was achieved was pleasing with the club breaking a number of goal-scoring records. Retaining the title will be difficult as the other main contenders have strengthened. The process of winning the league for the third time in fours years can begin by avoiding defeat against Arsenal.
It is much harder to retain a title than to win the thing and that was correct the last time City began a season as champions. A botched transfer policy under Roberto Mancini contributed to a weak defence of the title and last season’s successful squad has not been improved significantly for this season. Chelsea look worthy favourites and City must beat Arsenal to stay in contention.
Liverpool v Aston Villa
It’s all about two players for Liverpool this season, one absent and the other very much a key member of their squad. Steven Gerrard is still crucial to the team’s prospects of going one better in the league than last season’s second place finish. Despite a great one club career Gerrard will now be remembered for slipping and allowing Chelsea to score first in the pivotal match at Anfield. The disappointment of the World Cup only adds to the demands of the season though it helps that Gerrard has retired from playing for England.
Luis Suarez has departed and been replaced by a number of players who may or may not compensate for the loss of the Uruguay player’s brilliance. There comes a point when a player becomes more a liability so it will be interesting to see at which point Mario Balotelli gets frustrated on and off the field. In theory paying £16 million for a goal scorer proven at the highest is good business but good luck in maintaining the Italian’s focus and concentration.
A home match with Aston Villa will not be the most demanding test of the season for Balotelli. If he loses his composure against Villa he won’t have a hope when he plays at Everton or United where the goading will be even more extreme. Last season was a near disaster fore Villa but they are still in the Premier League. Villa have been dismal for the last three seasons and there does not appear to too much light at the end of the tunnel and a big defeat against Liverpool could mean the club starts a poor run of form.
Manchester United v Queens Park Rangers
Ridiculous as it seems even after just three league games Manchester United and Louis Van Gaal have reached a must win game situation. Fixtures at Old Trafford against sides like Rangers were always won when Sir Alex Ferguson was the manager. That air of invincibility at home was lost during the David Moyes era. If United drop points in this match they could be as many as nine points behind the league leaders at the end of the weekend.
The club are still the richest in England with vast income streams. However even United cannot tolerate and plan for one more season not in the Champions League. Van Gaal has been told he must finish third or better. United could be looking for a third manager in two years. Jose Mourinho would walk up the motorway barefoot to be the United manager. He could get his wish sooner than anticipated if United stay in the bottom half of the table much longer.
Neville believes United paid over the odds during their summer splurge in spending £153 million in the transfer market. Bizarrely they also seem to have let Arsenal get Welbeck on the cheap. Business seems to have had little control or long term strategy. Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao are brilliant players but will do little to improve a shaky defence that looks vulnerable for most of matches.
If Rangers expose United Van Gaal will be concerned especially if the fans taunt him about being David Moyes in disguise. Inflexibility seems to be one of Van Gaal’s characteristics but he will have to adapt in the match against Rangers or he could be on the first plane back to the Netherlands. Rangers need some surgery and surely even Harry Redknapp cannot fashion a win for the club at Old Trafford.