February 29, 2016

A big Sunday for Manchester

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

It’s probably pretty safe to say that Sunday couldn’t have gone better for the city of Manchester.

First, United continued its solid little run by defeating title contenders Arsenal, damaging the Gunners’ prospects of catching up to leaders Leicester and second-place Tottenham. Then, after 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time, it was Willy Caballero – who was crucified last week for his poor performance against Chelsea in the FA Cup – that played the hero by making three saves in the penalty shootout to clinch the Capital One Cup for the Citizens over Liverpool.

With City’s inconsistencies at times and United’s struggles under Louis van Gaal, there haven’t been many weekends this season on which both sides of Manchester were rejoicing.

In an odd scheduling quirk, both sides will be getting their full share of Liverpool coming up. After defeating the Reds on Sunday, City will visit Anfield on Wednesday for a league fixture. Liverpool then plays Crystal Palace and then it’s two games in a row against United, thanks to being drawn together in Europa League.

Both teams are sitting in tight in the race for spots in Europe and will need to keep up their good form if they want to keep it that way.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

It was quite the first week for Marcus Rashford at Manchester United.

After scoring twice in his first-team debut to power the Red Devils past pesky FC Midjtylland in Europa League, he proved no fluke with two more and an assist against Arsenal in another huge game.

While you can’t deny that he did well to be in those scoring positions on Sunday, there was a certain bit of opportunism that should lead us to not get too carried away with the 19-year-old just yet. He does have potential, but let’s not pencil him in to any Euro 2016 lineups just yet.

But what does the rest of the season hold for him?

Louis van Gaal has kept youngsters that have done well in the lineup, most notably Jesse Lingard recently. And with the rash of injuries United has suffered, there’s no reason he won’t keep his place for the time being at least.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

We should be used to it by now, but it’s still great to see Leicester break through late to earn full points in a pretty even match. While the Foxes may sit in first, they tend to have some trouble against sides like Norwich, who won’t play into Leicester’s counterattacking style. It’s a big reason why the little Foxes earned points against the bigger, more expensive sides this season … Leonardo Ulloa is truly a super sub. After playing a large role for Leicester last season, he’s now coming off the bench – leading the league in sub appearances with 15 – and bagged the winner this week … Chelsea-Southampton was a game that really turned on mistakes. First, it was Baba Rahman giving the ball to Shane Long, who broke open the scoring. Then Fraser Forster, who hadn’t allowed a goal in six matches, gave up his first since returning from injury on a weak one. While it was tough to tell if the on-rushing attack was going to get to Cesc Fabregas’ “cross,” the Saints keeper surely could’ve done better. And on the winner by Branislav Ivanovic, the header was right at Forster, who couldn’t keep it out … Stoke City piled some misery onto Aston Villa, but that wasn’t even the bottom-dweller’s worst defeat of the week. According to reports, the Villans actually lost a behind-closed-doors game to their U21 squad. It might be time to call some of those youngsters up because the first-team players certainly aren’t getting it done … Crystal Palace might be on a nice FA Cup run, but it sure is stinking it up in the league. Saturday’s loss to West Brom was the Eagles’ seventh in 10 games and they haven’t won since Dec. 19. Could another club be tiring of Alan Pardew? … It was nice of the West Brom fans to support Chris Brunt after he was hit with a coin from a supporter in their FA Cup game. It was a shame though that he went off with a potentially serious ankle injury … This is pretty rare in fantasy Premier League, but Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski got three bonus points in their game with Spurs despite allowing three goals. In fairness, he made some spectacular saves and the Swans would’ve been much worse off without him … Spurs now have 17 points from games in which they’re trailed, most in the league. That fight-back is a big reason why they’re sitting second in the table right now.

THE LAST WORD

The Premier League returned after a week off, but it’s actually hard to say that it was missed.

When you consider the amount of soccer that was played in between the final kick on Valentine’s Day and this weekend’s opener, you could’ve been fooled that there was even a break.

That’s because we were treated with some FA Cup, Champions League and Europa League ties featuring English teams.

It brings up an interesting question: How will a manager like Pep Guardiola fare when he takes over Manchester City next season?

While we should trust that a world-class manager like Pep can adapt to the rigors of the Prem, you can’t underestimate how much of a grind the schedule can be. Between the three aforementioned competitions, the Capital One Cup and, of course, the league, there are fixtures flying at teams from every angle.

If you play Fantasy Premier League, you might’ve heard there was a chance that Man City may have had a super-rare triple gameweek later this season, playing four league games in about eight days.

Take a look at the Premier League schedule from Christmas until around now and you’ll be hard-pressed to see any of the top teams getting one game per week. Contrast that with the Bundesliga, where Pep is currently guiding Bayern Munich to the title, and you’ll see just that – a stark contrast.

In Germany, instead of making teams work overtime, there’s actually a winter break, giving squads a vacation to recover and regroup.

It’s this sort of thing that really gets overlooked when you see managers come to England. It’s not just the game that is tougher, it’s everything, including the schedule. Whether or not a manager can, well, manage their squad in those tough stretches goes a long way to showing if they can cut it in the Premier League.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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