Burnley v Man Utd
Live on BT Sport 1
Ralf Rangnick’s time at Manchester United continues to stutter on, and while there have been some improvements in their defensive shape – United are more organised off the ball now, and thus harder to beat – even abandoning his 4-2-2-2 formation has not managed to improve their attacking output.
However, Paul Pogba’s return to the starting line-up should give Rangnick’s side an extra assertiveness through central midfield and allow United to repeat what they did in the reverse fixture in December. They raced into a 3-0 lead inside 35 minutes thanks to the best example to date of the Germanic, vertical, high-energy football the new manager demands.
Burnley’s flat 4-4-2 was blown away by the sheer force of will, and by the speed of United’s direct dribbling down the flanks. With Pogba playing luxury forward passes into the wide men, United can once again easily cut through an error-prone defence.
Burnley’s 0-0 draw with Watford in a must-win game will have seen heads drop at Turf Moor, making another heavy defeat likely.
Man City v Brentford
Live on BT Sport 2
Brentford conceded early in the reverse fixture but after that settled well into their rhythm, holding Manchester City at arms’ length from within a compact 3-5-2 that copied the well-established template of how to grind out a point against Pep Guardiola’s team. Once again, it is unlikely to get Brentford any points but they should certainly keep the score down.
Thomas Frank’s side held 24% possession in that game, highlighting just how defensive Brentford were – despite being a goal down within 16 minutes. The basic idea was to allow the City centre-backs to hold as much of the ball as they would like, while using Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo to block off the lanes into Fernandinho and Kevin de Buyne.
With Bernardo Silva coming short, that forced City to shunt the ball slowly down the wings, where they were stumped by the deep blockade of defenders happy to shimmy across on the edge of their own area. If Brentford can avoid an early lapse of concentration this time around, it is plausible they will get a 0-0 at the Etihad.
Liverpool v Leicester
Live on BT Sport 1
Brendan Rodgers was furious with his players after their 4-1 defeat to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup and even suggested some of them will not play for Leicester City again. He has surely lost patience with Daniel Amartey, whose poor performances as a centre-back culminated in an error-strewn display on Saturday that will surely see Jannick Vestergaard return to the side.
But Vestergaard has looked slow and off the pace this season, which hands Liverpool a crucial advantage on their left side, especially if Ricardo Pereira is still deemed unfit to start following his return from injury. James Justin and Vestergaard, together, is not a strong partnership and Liverpool will dominate this area should Luis Diaz continue his good start.
Liverpool’s new left winger came off the bench to earn an assist at the weekend while Harvey Elliot scored following his return from a dislocated ankle. These two give Jurgen Klopp a huge tactical boost by adding a variety and unpredictability in the final third that hapless Leicester will not be able to cope with.
Wolves v Arsenal
Live on BT Sport 2
Wolves have gone under the radar this season largely because their games are so low scoring, and yet if they win their game in the hand they will move into the top four. Bruno Lage is doing a superb job, it’s just that the football is rather slow and the tactical patterns too thoughtfully considered to lead to the kind of high-scoring matches needed to grab the public’s attention.
Perhaps a statement win against Mikel Arteta’s goal-shy Arsenal will do the trick. Lage’s strategy is an evolution of Nuno Espirito Santo, whose counter-attacking system and free-form attacks have been swapped for a more diligent possession-based game under Lage – only still with a midblock that looks to keep players behind the ball.
Consequently Wolves should easily slow down Arsenal, who are on a four-game goalless streak defined by Thomas Partey’s absence. Without his intelligent passing from the base of midfield, Arteta’s side become flat and predictable. A defensively cautious Wolves team will complete a low-scoring midweek round.