This Sunday sees the first big blockbuster set of televised matches in the Premier League with massive derbies in the north-west and North London. The combined odds for the draw in both matches between Liverpool and Manchester United and Arsenal and Tottenham is about 10/1 and that looks a decent bet in view of how tight these matches can be.
The fixture list is supposed to be set by computer and is totally random. However, it’s amazing how often the schedule throws up these double headers of huge matches. Sky Sports love to promote back-to-back big fixtures and bookmakers relish days like this Sunday when two televised matches generate huge turnover.
Even at this early stage of the season results in these two matches can have a significant effect on how the rest of the season pans out for the four clubs involved. Home defeats would be particularly damaging for Liverpool and Arsenal and would represent serious blows to the aspirations of the respective mangers.
If both matches are drawn the main beneficiaries would be Manchester City and Chelsea. The latter are not involved in the league programme this weekend as they played Bayern Munich in the UEFA Super Cup on Friday night. City are about 1/7 to beat Hull City at home but after last weekend’s reverse at Cardiff that is a price to avoid.
Each of the four teams involved on Sunday will be looking to qualify for next season’s Champions League. This is a minimum requirement for United and Arsenal while Liverpool and Spurs will be looking to go to the next level by playing in the competition formerly known as the European Cup next season.
There are only three teams that can win the league this season and no more than another three that can achieve that lucrative fourth place finish. Those six clubs in total include the four involved in these matches on Sunday so it seems more than a coincidence that two such important clashes have been scheduled for the same weekend.
In different ways it is transfers that have, may or may not taken place during the window that has dominated the football news agenda during the summer months. Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale and several expensive targets have dominated the stories with regards their respective clubs.
At the time of writing Suarez and Rooney are staying put, Bale will get his dream move to Real Madrid and Arsene Wenger has yet to spend a franc (or Euro in new money) with deadline day approaching. Bale is the banker to move, Rooney looks recommitted to the Man U cause and who knows what Suarez is thinking, while Monsieur Wenger will have to take the wallet out of his back pocket pretty promptly to appease Arsenal’s supporters.
The lunchtime time match on Sunday is the huge local derby between Liverpool and Manchester United. This fixture is unique in that it brings together the two most successful clubs in English football from cities that are just 35 miles apart. Rio Ferdinand has said that this in his view is the biggest game of the season.
There is some debate about which is the most intense rivalry between two clubs in world football. Some club matches in Argentina can get quite fiery, the Glasgow derby has elements of sectarian bigotry and the El Classico between Barcelona and Real Madrid encompasses politics and club history.
However, Liverpool and United supporters “hate” each other, a big word to describe a sporting rivalry in the context of what is going on in places like Egypt and Syria but an accurate description of the relationship. An under 10s match in Blackpool was stopped at the weekend when parents of junior sides from the suburbs of Liverpool and Manchester ran on the pitch and exchanged abuse before turning on the 15 year old female referee.
The north west of England is a huge conurbation that uniquely has two major cities within its boundaries. Economically Liverpool and Manchester have both had historical significance, with the docks and shipbuilding and the Industrial Revolution. There is rivalry between the cities away from the football pitch but the soccer rivalry reflects the respective status of both cities.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s stated aim when he was appointed manager of Manchester United was to “knock Liverpool off their perch”. It seemed a fanciful objective in 1986 and it took 25 years to come to fruition but United have now won 20 league titles in England, two more than Liverpool, though Liverpool have won the Champions League (European Cup) two more times than their rivals.
The city of Manchester prospered in the post heavy industry economy while Liverpool struggled to come to terms with the loss of big employers like the docks and shipyards. However, Liverpool has now recovered by focusing on retail and services and it will interesting to see if that recovery is reflected in how each football club performs on the field over the next 10 years.
Geographically Arsenal and Spurs are much closer together than the two superpowers in the north. They are also probably more evenly matched in terms of their ambitions for the season. Realistically neither are good enough to win the league and their business plans will be based on qualification for Europe.
However, there is a huge financial disparity between playing in the Champions League and Europa League. Arsenal have now qualified for the group stage of the Champions League for each of the seasons during which Wenger has been in charge. Tottenham have had a taste for the competition but key to their qualification chances will be the effect of the departure of Bale.
Spurs have already spent the money in anticipation of a huge influx of cash while Arsenal are again leaving it late to make a stellar signing. Suarez could still join either club but Spurs have done their transfer business early so there will be no last day panic. On balance there is little to choose between the four clubs ahead of any significant transfer dealings so the double on two draws this Sunday is a bet to consider.