• Guardiola has tasked Kyle Walker with marshaling Jadon Sancho, who is on good form and his job is to stop Sancho from working his way from the wing into the centre.
• If Tottenham can pull off a win, they will knock local rivals Arsenal off the top of the table.
Undoubtedly two of the biggest games this weekend are the derbies between Manchester City v Manchester United and Arsenal hosting neighbours Tottenham.
United manager Erik Ten Hag has been carefully planning how to stop midfield attacking maestro Kevin de Bruyne from feeding goal machine Erling Haaland. Ten Hag knows it is a strategy battle he must win.
Ex-United manager Louis Van Goal believes he has the answer and has passed on his advice to Ten Hag. He believes that first-choice left-back Tyrell Malacia should move closer inside with the precise instruction to stop Kevin de Bryune from feeding Haaland.
Malacia controlled De Bruyne in Holland’s 1-0 win over Belgium in the Nations League. Van Gaal explained his strategy when he told us: “I had to stop De Bruyne and I wanted to see what Malacia could do so I switched him to left centreback because De Bruyne played a lot in that area of the field. It’s better to have a pitbull instead of a tactical player.”
Ten Hag has listened to his friend and recently switched Malacia to right-back in a Europa League game but this week he has been working with his assistants and deciding whether to change his back line and as I write this, I understand he is very reluctant to break up the partnership of Raphael Verane and Lisandro Martinez in their current positions.
Cristiano Ronaldo returned from his native Portugal with a black eye and a cut down his nose after clashing with a defender during their 4-1 win against Czech Republic.
Pep Guardiola has been spending time working on a plan to release De Bruyne from the tight marking planned by Ten Hag so he can feed Haaland.
It is obvious that both managers see the De Bruyne, Haaland versus Raphael Verane, Tyrell Malacia and Lisandro Martinez confrontation as the most important aspect of this match. Neither United or City coaches have been able to spend much time with their key players because of the international break and this game will be tightly fought.
Guardiola’s main worry is the injury to John Stones, who was withdrawn from England’s match against Germany after a hamstring problem. The medical team at the Etihad Stadium are awaiting his arrival to assess the damage as I write this column.
Guardiola has tasked Kyle Walker with marshaling Jadon Sancho, who is on good form and his job is to stop Sancho from working his way from the wing into the centre.
Once again, Ten Hag has been sitting in his office trying to sort out his biggest challenge. Casimero was bought from Real Madrid for these big games. He is dependable, fights like crazy for ball control and has a vision.
However, his place is taken by Scott McTominay, who has improved beyond expectation under Ten Hag. Who will start? Ten Hag will make his decision after Friday’s training session. Signing Christian Eriksen on a free transfer was a gamble which has paid off handsomely and his partnership with McTominay has been the inspiration behind United’s resurgence this season.
If Tottenham can pull off a win, they will knock local rivals Arsenal off the top of the table. The match will be officiated by referee Anthony Taylor, who has already courted controversy this season when he sent coach Antonio Conte off the field with a red card during the feisty match with Chelsea. Conte is not looking forward to meeting Taylor again.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane is back to his scoring best with a midweek goal for England. Meanwhile, eight Arsenal players returned from international duty injured. Their medical team have been working hard on Thomas Partey, who returned from international duty with a knee problem.
However, coach Mikel Arteta is hoping he will be fit to run the midfield but admits he is doubtful for the Tottenham game. Arteta does, however, have Martin Odegaard back from injury and he is likely to start. Controlling the midfield is going to be vital in this tight match. Oleksandr Zinchenko and Takehiro Tomiyasu are still nursing injuries and are fighting to be fit in time to be considered.
Odegaard injured a thigh in the match against Brentford but remained at the Emirates for extra treatment with the club physios before departing for Norway’s international match, where he was in the starting squad. The good news for Arsenal fans is Reiss Nelson’s return to training with the first-team squad.
Kieran Tierney received a head knock playing for Scotland and returned to Arsenal early but will be fit to play this weekend. Conte has Son Hueng-Min back in contention after his late entry into the Brentford game where he scored a hat-trick. Richarlison is also fit and Conte is planning to use him in the match.
City delay Walker deal
Manchester City have decided to delay talks regarding Kyle Walker’s new contract.
Kyle, 32, has 20 months to go on his current deal but is beginning to be injury prone. The right-back has missed a few games for City. However, he played for England in the Nations League. City tell me they are waiting until after the World Cup finals before deciding on his future beyond 2024.
Generally, Kyle has an excellent injury-free career record but entering the final period of his long service, City are waiting to see how he handles five weeks of intense competition at the World Cup in Qatar and then his return to help City in their quest for Premier League and European glory.
Lage says Costa could start for Wolves
Word coming out of Wolverhampton is the possible debut of Diego Costa. Coach Bruno Lage is impressed with Costa’s training fitness and Raul Jimenez is still struggling with a groin injury sustained in the warm-up before the 1-0 win over Southampton on September 3. Summer signing Sasa Kalajdzic is not going to be fit for some weeks with knee ligament damage and Costa is Lage’s planned replacement.
Arsenal watch Rennes star
During the international break, Arsenal sent scouts to watch 24-year-old Rennes midfielder Lovro Majer when he featured in Croatia’s match against Denmark. Majer’s style is similar to Real Madrid star Luka Modric and he first came to the Gunners’ attention when he joined the French Ligue 1 club. Although Rennes paid only £10million for him, he has performed exceptionally and my inquiries have revealed that his value is now put at £45million.
Maguire not phased by critics
Manchester United defender Harry Maguire has been under fire for some time regarding his performances and has lost his starting position. This week he said he doesn’t read or listen to the negative comments made about him and said he is always ready to play when selected by Erik Ten Hag.
He commented: “I feel fit and fresh. On my form, I don’t know what has been said and I don’t really read about it. I came off the back of three positive games with England in the summer and a good pre-season. I felt really good. Don’t forget that I also went to the Euros after an eight-week injury and got into the team of the tournament.”
It is a good job Maguire doesn’t read about himself after giving away two goals playing for England against Germany this week.
Chelsea track 17-year-old
Chelsea boss Graham Potter has told Fulham the Blues are ready to negotiate to buy 17-year-old Luke Harris. He has not even played for Fulham’s first team yet but was selected for the Welsh national squad for the game against Poland.
Chelsea scouts noted Harris’ performance for the Fulham Under 21 team when they played the Blues earlier this year, where he scored a hat-trick. Fulham has a first-class academy that has provided players such as Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho, both now at Liverpool. The January transfer window will likely see the two clubs doing a deal.
Everton need to strengthen defence
Everton manager Frank Lampard says the way for his team to have better chances of winning is to strengthen his defence.
“I need to make us hard to beat and the 1-0 win against West Ham shows that we can win if we don’t concede goals,” said Lampard.
As a result, Lampard has been training with his players this week to practice tracking back to help out in defence. It is a tough ask with players exhausted after covering most of the pitch for long periods but he has put more emphasis on improving fitness levels.
Before the 1-0 win over West Ham, the Toffees had recorded four draws and Lampard said this week: “Whoever comes into the team has to deliver defensively and make us hard to beat. If you’re hard to beat in this league, you give yourself a chance.”