Another turbulent week for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United concludes with a visit to the London Stadium for a game the Old Trafford boss simply dare not lose. By contrast, after a traumatic start to the season and his West Ham tenure, Hammers’ manager Manuel Pellegrini finds himself in a better place. Mourinho can ill afford to lose; Pellegrini would take a point.
For Pellegrini, the last couple of weeks have undoubtedly been his best so far in the West Ham dugout, with their first win away at Everton being followed with a worthy 0-0 home draw against Chelsea and then a few days ago they hammered Macclesfield 8-0 in the Carabao Cup. But still they find themselves only four places off the bottom of the table, and those improved results will count for nothing if they are unable to use them as a springboard for some Premier League consistency.
For Man Utd and Mourinho the pressure needle is off the scale, with the ongoing fallout between the United manager and Paul Pogba taking up even more column inches than their team’s stuttering form. And both issues came to a head in midweek when, after losing to Derby on penalties in the Carabao Cup, Mourinho announced that Pogba will never again captain the Red Devils.
Clearly the two are on totally different wavelengths and much of Mourinho’s angst was borne of some sloppy play from the Frenchman last Saturday that led to Wolves equalising at Old Trafford. To Mourinho this screamed ‘complacency’ and was ultimately to cost Pogba any chance of ever captaining United again. The relationship between the two appears to have broken down to the point it’s become an even bigger problem than United’s form – which sees them already eight points behind leaders Liverpool.
All of which makes the weekend’s clash in Stratford a fascinating prospect, especially with West Ham going into the game off the back of that confidence-boosting Carabao Cup performance.
Mourinho will know only too well the importance of this game – West Ham is not an ideal place to be heading when the chips are down – but will also have in mind the small matter of an upcoming midweek game with Valencia in the Champions League. And therefore, despite the importance of this game, there is a juggling act in terms of managing his squad to maximise their chances in both games.
From a technical perspective, West Ham will be hoping the clean sheet against Chelsea is a sign that their defensive sloppiness, which marred their opening few games, is now behind them and will be encouraged by how they were relatively comfortable against the Blues. In a very disciplined performance, they managed to keep their shape even when under the cosh and proved themselves capable of sitting back and being able to soak up pressure.
They will also be heartened by the way they created chances and but for a couple of bad misses by Michail Antonio could have snaffled the three points.
We expect Pellegrini to stick with the 4-1-4-1 formation that worked so well against Chelsea, with Declan Rice’s role as the lone defensive midfielder being key to its success (or otherwise), with the Hammers’ boss also hoping that Marko Arnautovic will be fit again and available for the game to take the role as lone striker.
Key too to West Ham’s afternoon will be how well their wide players – expected to be Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson – track the runs of Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia, and then exploit the space left behind when the United full-backs charge on. Who comes out top in this battle will go a long way to deciding the outcome.
For their part, United will try to play with a quicker tempo than they did against Wolves – the tempo that the Man Utd faithful demands – and may find playing away from home to their liking.
And, whether Mourinho likes it or not, Pogba is vital to United’s system and there’s no question that a motivated, ‘on it’ Frenchman will tilt the balance of probability in favour of the Reds. His knack of getting on the ball in dangerous areas and using his creative spark to release Lukaku, Lingard and Sanchez in pockets of space in the attacking third will be something West Ham simply have to stop if they hope to get something from the game.
All of this adds up to a cagey affair with much depending on who gets the first goal. West Ham, in particular, will be keen to stick to a similar game plan to the one they used against Chelsea and will be desperate to not allow United the fillip of an early goal – something that would settle them down after their difficult week.
In United’s favour is that they have an outstanding record against West Ham – just two defeats in their last 25 matches in all competitions – and although the two sides drew this fixture 0-0 at the back end of last season, we can’t see West Ham keeping three consecutive clean sheets. Man Utd will feel they are up against it from all corners and it wouldn’t be the first time a Mourinho side had reacted positively to a sense that they are ‘under siege’.
Therefore we can see United nudging themselves ahead – possibly through that man Lukaku (16/5) – and hanging on to their lead. We’re tempted with a 1-0 to United (7/1) but have a gut feel for them clinching it with a second goal late on. Therefore we consider the 2-0 United offered by 188bet at +830 to be quite tempting.
And, given the week he has had, we also fancy Pogba to grab a goal and make known his feelings towards Mourinho in the process (anytime goalscorer at +275 with Betway).
Manchester Utd to win 2-0
Saturday 29, September. 12:30 GMT
Paul Pogba – Anytime goalscorer
Saturday 29, September. 12:30 GMT
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The big game of the weekend sees first play third, with Chelsea and Liverpool both putting their unbeaten runs on the line, with the Reds in addition defending their 100% start to the Premier League season. The stakes couldn’t be much higher in the battle of blue versus red, with also the small matter of there being little love lost between the two clubs.
The pair also met at Anfield in midweek in the Carabao Cup – a game that saw Chelsea emerge victorious in a contest between two much-changed sides – but with league points now at stake it’s unlikely to have too much bearing on what occurs at Stamford Bridge. What it will have done, as if it were needed, is remind Jurgen Klopp that a Chelsea side operating well below their best are still a massive threat if Eden Hazard is on the pitch – the Belgian being the midweek matchwinner with a stunning performance.
While the Reds have a 6-0 record, Chelsea, under new manager Maurizio Sarri have themselves made a very positive start to the new season, the two points dropped against West Ham last weekend being the only slight blemish on their record. But at home they are three wins from three and have scored an impressive nine goals in the process.
Sarri has implemented a more attacking style than his predecessor, Antonio Conte, and while it’s a method that’s still being implemented, the signs are good, and the Stamford Bridge crowd are bracing themselves for a title challenge.
Interestingly, Hazard’s goalscoring exploits aside, Sarri is still searching for someone to lead his line and while the football is both attacking and attractive, neither Olivier Giroud or Álvaro Morata have yet to find the net regularly enough to make the lone striker role their own.
Sarri has acknowledged that this Chelsea side is yet far from being the finished article and knows they will only get better the more they play in his new attacking system, and so it will be interesting to see quite how much they can trouble this Liverpool defence.
For their part, the Reds have been in great form and have shown some real attacking fluency but also the ability to grind out results when the fluency has alluded them – a common trait of the great Liverpool sides of the 1970s and 1980s.
Last time out they picked up a comfortable 3-0 win at home to Southampton, and it’s worth noting that they have scored at least twice in all but one of their league games this season. Along the way they have also acquired four clean sheets in their six games, but Chelsea will offer them their sternest Premier League test of the season so far. It’s early days but this really does feel like an early test of their title credentials.
Much will depend on how well the Reds are able to contain the threat of Hazard, who’s in the form of his life, but if they can we really fancy them to continue their stunning start to the season. In Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, they have a three-way attacking threat and with their high-tempo, high-press they have a style of play that makes them hellishly difficult to play against.
But we expect it to be tight and interestingly, Liverpool have won three of their last four league games by a one-goal margin. This could well be another, and on paper represents a similar challenge to the one presented by Tottenham at Wembley – a game they won 2-1.
One positive for the Blues is that they had the edge over Liverpool last season, picking up four points from their two games – which included a 1-0 home win – but we can see the Reds getting their revenge.
There has been an average of four goals per game at Stamford Bridge this season, so we are expecting goals, but there will be a mutual respect between the coaches and so it may not be as gung-ho as we’d naturally expect, especially early on. We can see it being a similar contest to the Tottenham game and so are going again for a 2-1 away win ( +950 BetVictor).
It’s hard to ignore Hazard and the form that he is currently in, so we’d recommend giving him as ‘anytime goalscorer’ a look, especially at +170 with 888sport.
Liverpool to win 2-1
Saturday 29, September. 17:30 GMT
Eden Hazard as anytime goalscorer
Saturday 29, September. 17:30 GMT
Burnley’s season finally kicked in last weekend with a thumping 4-0 win over Bournemouth and they will be hoping to carry this momentum into this weekend’s trip to Cardiff. The Welsh side however are still awaiting their season to be kick-started and will see Burnley as opponents they can beat.
So far, the Bluebirds have looked out of their depth in the Premier League and are already odds-on for a swift return to the Championship but it’s inconceivable that manager Neil Warnock will let them go without a fight – especially at this ridiculously early stage of the season. He has acknowledged that his side must target points from those sides outside the top six – like Burnley – and put 5-0 drubbings, like the one dished out to them by Man City, down to experience.
But, equally, Burnley manager Sean Dyche will see away trips to the likes of Cardiff as three points for the taking and will be gearing his troops up for a physical battle that must be won before their extra quality can shine through. What Dyche will be hoping to avoid is that his side’s midweek reverse against Burton in the Carabao Cup knocks their confidence – instead he’ll be wanting them to tap into the spirit of the win over Bournemouth.
And we think Dyche will win this rare clash of the English managers. It will be a battle, of that we’re certain, and Warnock’s side will make life tough for their English opponents, but we envisage Burnley withstanding the Blue storm before creating opportunities for the likes of Matej Vydra, Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes.
We’re tempted by the 2-1 away win (11/1) but we’re going to be bold and predict Burney to go one better and sneak a late one to make it 3-1 ( +3000 with 188bet).
In any game involving a Warnock side the tackles will fly in and so this makes the ‘to be shown a card’ an interesting market. While it’s tempting to plump for one of Warnock’s troops, we have an inkling that the combative Phil Bardsley is a decent shout at +145 with BetVictor.
Burnley to beat Cardiff 3-1
Sunday, 30 September. 16:00 GMT
Phil Bardsley to be shown a card
Sunday, 30 September. 16:00 GMT
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