Match of the Weekend:
Manchester United v Manchester City
This game is all about what
Manchester City do. Does Roberto Mancini have the belief in his players to go
and try to beat United? Or does he repeat his tactics from the first game at
Eastlands and play negatively, going for a draw? Mancini has an extremely conservative
Italian mentality, and thinks it is better not to lose than to take a risk in
pursuit of victory. Maybe he just wants to consolidate his top-four position,
but if City have any ambitions of staying in the title race, they need to win. United
are vulnerable at the back, as Wolves showed last weekend, and City have the players
to cause them problems. Do they have the courage to throw caution to the wind
and go for the win?
Players of the Weekend: Chris
The youngster has come in to
replace Rio Ferdinand at the back for United, and this is probably the biggest
game of his career so far. Jonny Evans has an injury niggle, but I don't think
he would have played anyway. It was no surprise to see him play poorly at
Wolves, and there is something not right with him at the moment. I don't know
whether it is in his head, because we know he has the raw talent. Smalling has
yet to prove himself, but he looks a promising player, and he needs to see this
game as a massive opportunity - if he plays well it could be the making of him.
He won't be playing, but the
derby always makes me think of Gary Neville. Nobody was more passionate about
the match than Gary, and his recent retirement highlights the lack of
characters like him in the modern game. His hard work and love for the club
were remarkable, and the likes of him and Jamie Carragher are a dying breed
when players will slap in a transfer request at the first sign of trouble. Gary's passion sometimes spilled over on derby day, such as when he had silly spat with Carlos Tevez last season - but that is the way he is, and it was a product of his incredible commitment to United. He
realised towards the end that he was slipping, but his was a fabulous career.
There are not many players who get to play for the club they supported as a kid
and win as much as him, but don't think Gary was just a lucky man - he worked incredibly
hard to make the most of his talents. The other thing about Gary was his mouth.
He always had something to say, and although he would moan he never hesitated
to speak up for his colleagues. He was by no means selfish. Every
club needs someone like Gary, someone who will speak up on behalf of players
and maybe make a nuisance of himself. He will be missed.
Upset of the Weekend: None
I'm sorry, but I just can't see
one this weekend. The three games that would qualify as proper upsets are
Arsenal-Wolves, Liverpool-Wigan and Fulham-Chelsea. I can't see Arsenal being
so sloppy this weekend after their incredible meltdown last week, while Wolves
will be hard-pushed to recreate their heroics against United. A rejuvenated
Liverpool should have far too much for a lightweight Wigan side. And Chelsea's
record against Fulham is so good, I think they will win comfortably - possibly
with a goal from Fernando Torres.
Under pressure: Roy Hodgson
That's right. He hasn't been in
the West Brom job five minutes and already the pressure is on. His reputation
took a battering during a tumultuous spell at Liverpool, but this job seems to
suit him much better. The main problem he has is one of time. After Michael
Appleton takes charge of Saturday's game against West Ham, Hodgson has 12 games
to turn things around. That is significantly less time than he had at Fulham in
2007/08, when he took over before the turn of the year - and they only stayed
up by the skin of their teeth. Hodgson is a calm, methodical man, and I expect
him to keep West Brom in the Premier League. But there will certainly be no
time for a bedding-in period.