Sheffield United will look to continue their good form as they host Leeds United in a top of the table clash on Saturday.
A win would see United leapfrog Leeds in the Championship table, with both teams in very promising positions going into the game.
The Blades go into the fixture on the back of a hard-fought victory over Brentford on Tuesday night.
Manager Chris Wilder was delighted at his team’s response to the poor performance at Rotherham last weekend.
He said: “We didn’t compete on Saturday, but we showed unbelievable character to bounce back and get the win on Tuesday. That’s what pleases me the most about this team.”
Their opposition, Leeds United, have had an exciting start to the season under Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa but Wilder says although Leeds’ style of play is aesthetically pleasing, it is sometimes better to be simple.
He said: “We try and be effective. We are not a footballing side, we want to be a complete side, we want to try and do every aspect of the game.
“On Tuesday, we played, we created, we defended well. It’s far from a perfect performance but there were a lot of positives.”
The Sheffield United manager confirmed there were no fresh injury concerns ahead of the Yorkshire derby. He also played down questions over whether Leeds were bigger enemies than city rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
Captain Billy Sharp scored three goals against Leeds, and is looking to carry his Yorkshire derby form through to this seasons fixtures between the clubs.
He said: “I seem to do well against Leeds. It’s not that I lift my game – I try to play to 110 percent every game and that’s what I’m looking to do on Saturday.”
The ex-Leeds striker has netted 11 goals so far this season, and admits he looks out for promotion rivals Leeds’ results at the weekend.
The match will be televised on Sky Sports and promises to be an intense fixture in front of a packed crowd at Bramall Lane with kickoff at 12.30pm.
Sheffield is hosting the British Figure Skating Championships for the ninth year in a row this week, and Sheffield-born Peter Hallam is the favourite for the men’s event.
The event is taking place at Ice Sheffield and stretches over the course of the week, with Friday and Saturday being pivotal to the deciding of the Championship.
Peter Hallam has finished as runner-up in the competition for the past three years, twice being tipped to the gold by Phillip Harris, who is absent from this years event.
Hallam will be hoping to go one better this year, as he looks to write his name as a Sheffield sporting hero in the world of figure skating.
As for the women, the event has been won by Natasha McKay for the past two years, but Karly Robertson is looking to secure her second title. She is part of the Dundee squad that have taken a 10-strong cohort to the tournament.
Favourites for the pairs title are Zoe Jones and Chris Boyadji.
The sport was the first winter sport to be recognised as a winter Olympic event. It tests a skater’s control and balance and demands lots of practice, patience and time.
The winners will be presented with awards at 6.00pm on Saturday, with a ‘Best of British Gala’ to follow.
BBC Sport will be broadcasting live from Ice Sheffield on Friday and Saturday, and the arena is expected to attract a nearly full attendance.
Football is a simple game. Besides perhaps the offside rule, which may be complicated to an outsider who doesn’t watch the game, the rules are pretty self-explanatory. You learn these from the first moment you kick a football around your garden or schoolyard, and they transition into second nature fairly quickly.
Often, however, you may hear anecdotes of ancient football that seem unthinkable now, potentially via Alan Smith tediously explaining to you via commentary on a video game that we used to have square goal-posts, where a lot more bounced out than went in. Other unthinkable facets of the game may consist of goalkeepers playing without gloves, the absence of a crossbar, which enabled goals to be scored regardless of how high the ball was, and when throw-ins had to be done at right angles to the touchline similar to a rugby line-up.
When you think of these weird archaic rules of the game, your imagination probably paints a black and white picture in your head of butch working-class English men in their dark leather boots kicking around a tattered ball that looks like it weighs the same as a medicine ball.
One rule change dates back to just 1992, however: the introduction of the back-pass regulation. For the younger generation, imagining a game where goalkeepers are able to pick up back-passes probably decorates the mind with the aforementioned black and white pictures of bare-handed goalkeepers trotting around a goal made of three planks of square-edged timber. But no, football only moved on from this a quarter of a century ago.
But why fix what wasn’t broken? Why fix the beautiful game and change the laws so dramatically a century after it became popularised in a competitive sense.
Well, surprisingly, the whole game was in a languid state on the back of the 1990 World Cup and the 1992 European Championship, which Denmark won after not originally qualifying, given a chance when the former Yugoslavia were forced to withdraw. Also, while Italia 90 may be remembered for some iconic moments – Gazza’s tears, Maradona breaking Brazilian hearts, Roger Milla’s dancing – it was not one for the football purists, with an all-time low average of only 2.2 goals per game.
The outlawing changed the game for the better and was one of the key factors in driving the success of the Premier League. The game changed seemingly overnight – at least in England and, to an extent, Italy – but this leaves a place for nostalgia around this pre-watershed state.
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From here, there is only really one example to start with: Graeme Souness to Chris Woods in 1987. Still in his playing days – technically a player-manager – for Rangers, Souness received the ball midway into the Dynamo Kyiv half with seconds left on the clock. Nowadays, the prescribed method to see out a game would be to take the ball into the corner and keep it there until the referee blows his whistle.
Instead of this, Souness turned away from the defenders and played a 60-yard pass to his goalkeeper, Woods. The ‘keeper picked the ball up, strolled around his box for as long as he could, bounced it a couple of times for good luck, and launched it back down the other end for a big striker to feed off. Pop it into your search engines if you haven’t seen it, you won’t be let down.
The fact that Souness would later go on to manage Liverpool, who were one of the teams that suffered in the early years of the rule change, makes for a good irony, but the back-pass against Dynamo can only really be looked back on as the undeniable masterpiece of the back-passing genre.
This ancient tactic of pumping the ball back to your goalkeeper wasn’t all fine and dandy. You would often get strikers just lurking in what would be an offside position if his team had the ball, just anticipating a back-pass. Also, there were a few bloopers, none better so than Lee Dixon to David Seaman in 1991. The Arsenal defender turned and attempted a long pass to his goalkeeper, but miss-judged it and actually chipped his compatriot, scoring an owl goal.
The Dixon-Seaman blunder is probably best reserved for the classic goalkeeping blunder DVDs, but it paints a picture of the weird state of football at the time, especially in Britain.
For a century, football, in the main, ran on fair play. It was only really the late 1980s and early 90s that teams started to exploit rules and turn their tactics extremely negative. In one game at the 1990 World Cup, against Egypt in Palermo, Irish goalkeeper Packie Bonner held the ball for almost six minutes without releasing it. The game ended goalless and many regard it as the most boring passage in World Cup history.
A general rethink of the laws of the game were promoted by these moments, which can only be described as odd, coupled with the negativity of the international tournaments of the early 1990s.
One of the last players to ever legally pick up a back-pass would have been the legendary Peter Schmeichel, who went on to be one of the best shot-stoppers the English game has ever seen. In the drab European Championship of 1992, his side quite literally back-passed their way to glory in the final. The great Dane gave this particular strand of gamesmanship a rousing send-off in the final against Germany as they completed their unexpected triumph.
Some magazines are meant to be kept
To see out the game, Schmeichel would have his defenders lined up either side of him on the corners of the box, before passing to one of them. The defender would, without hesitation, immediately return the ball to the grateful hands of the white-haired goalkeeper, who will be remembered as the icon of that tournament. Schmeichel and co repeated this tediously to see the game out, but while Denmark celebrated, the governing overlords of football sat in despair at the state of the so-called beautiful game.
With the change came the beginning of a new era: the founding of the Premier League ahead of the 1992/93 season, a new era of English football that would go on to be much more than a division. Instead, it would become a multi-billion pound product that would attract rich investors and advertisers from around the world. But it needed to be an entertaining product, so changes were necessary.
Law 12, Section 2 was implemented into the Laws of the Game and this changed the Premier League for the better ahead of its inaugural campaign. A generation or two before the days of Pep Guardiola arriving on our shores and hunted a goalkeeper for his ability on the ball over his shot-stopping, ‘keepers were largely there just to keep clean sheets and hoof balls upfield.
The outlawing was greeted with pessimism from sections of the Premier League. “I don’t think this is going to enhance the game at all,” complained Arsenal boss George Graham. Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson felt the new ruling would be counterproductive and it would instead promote long-ball football. Wilkinson’s views were not necessarily wrong in the short term but it is telling that his Leeds side fell from champions to a meager 17th place in the inaugural Premier League campaign.
The rule change wasn’t designed to prevent negative tactics; it was introduced simply to add to the drama of the game and increase the entertainment. Football was too slow and fans had experienced one back-pass too many – the game was turning into a pedestrianised sport like cricket, with too many stoppages in play.
It was on 15 August 1992 that football changed dramatically in England, and it didn’t come without its fair share of comedy. Fans had seen tasters of what was to come in pre-season, notably when Manchester City goalkeeper Andy Dibble suffered a broken leg when hesitating with the ball at his feet.
The giants of the 1980s struggled in this post-normality state. Nottingham Forest were relegated in the first Premier League season, with Brian Clough’s style not adaptable to the newfound tempo of the game. Liverpool, the most successful team in the 1980s, also suffered.
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However, nobody was troubled more than the goalkeepers. Ex-England goalkeeper Alan Hodgkinson complained: “The new rule is making a mockery of my profession.” Goalkeepers, who had spent their whole life training to use their hands, now had to use their feet. Crazy – the idea of foot-ballers having to use their feet. But at the time, it was a new idea. Decades before the Edersons and Alissons of the Premier League, many goalkeepers frowned at the idea of using their feet. There were some exceptions, of course, but that’s often what they were – exceptions.
Despite all the early complaining, the back-pass rule change undeniably improved football, especially in England. It had teething problems, obviously, but after a year of adjustment, it helped the game flow better and it made football a more entertaining spectacle, one built for the TV packages and industry it has become.
Twenty-five years on from the change, the Premier League is now by far the most watched league in the world. The quality of football grows each season, overseas players come to the league to fulfill lifelong dreams, while the whole Sky Sports product is now a cinematic experience with a growing worldwide viewership.
The majority of coaches in the Premier League now insist on building from the back, adapting the principles of luminaries like Johan Cruyff. The revolutionary Dutch legend was a keen student of Gusztáv Sebes’ Hungary team of the 1950s, who was faithful to the idea that goalkeepers were the 11th man and football wasn’t a game of 10 outfielders. Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has sought to build on those examples, and in his record breaking Centurions season of 2017/18, his goalkeeper, Ederson, was a crucial factor.
Ederson wasn’t the first goalkeeper to play out from the back, nor is he the last, but 25 years on from the rule change, he will be cited as one of the pioneers of the modern art of goalkeeping in England, which stretches beyond the primary role of guarding the net.
Outlawing the handling of back-passes changed the game seemingly overnight and prevented teams from exploiting loopholes to see out games. It is wholly coincidental that the rule change arrived on the eve of the Premier League’s inaugural campaign, but it can be firmly stated as a causal reason for the rise of the best league in the world.
Previously attempted rule changes failed, such as to make penalty shoot-outs ice hockey styled with a 30 yard run and five seconds to score, but this change worked and it is one of the driving factors behind the excitement of the game in the 21st century. The more time the ball is in play, the more excitement we have, and the more we get to experience the great players the Premier League is populated with.
With the latest international break looming on the horizon, teams across the SkyBet Championship were eager to put on a show to send fans home happy and give themselves momentum heading to the imminent two-week break from action.
As ever, there were plenty of goals, drama and surprises to keep you on your toes, and today, we at Steele Sport take a detailed look into the weekend’s activity and who the big winners were across the second, third and fourth tiers.
Rewind to May 7th 2016.
A Cristhian Stuani goal – now a regular sight for fans of Girona FC in La Liga – was enough for Middlesbrough on the final day at home to challengers Brighton & Hove Albion to earn the point necessary for the Boro to return to the pinnacle of English football after a seven year absence.
But the mastermind behind it all? One Aitor Karanka.
Fast forward almost two and a half years, and the Spanish manager was returning to the Riverside with new club Nottingham Forest for only the second time since his sacking the following season.
A lot has changed at Boro since promotion and relegation to and from the Premier League, but as back in 2015-16, the North Yorkshire outfit head into this campaign on the back of playoff disappointment and as one of the heavy favourites to earn promotion back to the top flight under the guidance of the vastly experienced Tony Pulis.
And it’s no secret that Middlesbrough have started well – particularly at home – where they went into Saturday’s meeting with their still much loved former manager’s club having played five, won four, drawn one and conceded no goals at the Riverside in 2018-19.
Forest on the other hand could have been forgiven for being a little pessimistic heading into the fixture, having thrown away a two-goal lead at home to Millwall on Wednesday night and a record of just one win in their last thirteen trips to the Riverside – which ironically, came during Karanka’s tenure in Yorkshire.
The Reds lost the corresponding match-up last season 2-0 when Karanka made his debut return, and it wouldn’t have been a great shock to see the same scoreline again this time around.
For fans who had made the 260-mile round trip from Nottingham, that’s exactly what they did see – but maybe not in favour of the team they had possibly expected.
After a tight first half which saw Boro hit the bar despite an impressive Forest display, it was the visitors who exploded into life less than five minutes into the second courtesy of in-form talisman, Joe Lolley.
The January signing from Huddersfield picked the ball up about midway in the opposition half and drove forward before unleashing a venomous strike from outside the box into the far corner, giving Darren Randolph no chance in the hosts’ goal.
Forest were deservedly ahead, but Lolley wasn’t finished there.
The winger could have had a second with a volley that was smartly saved by the goalkeeper, but after former Reds striker Britt Assombalonga came off the bench to be foiled by Costel Pantilimon, Lolley turned provider.
After his corner was initially cleared, the 26-year-old received the ball straight back after an incisive pass from Ben Watson, and drilled a dangerous cross into the six yard box which was stabbed home – in true poacher’s fashion – by Lewis Grabban, who notched up his fifth goal since joining from Bournemouth in the summer.
Forest had seen a two goal lead slip just three days prior at home to relegation-threatened Millwall, but there was no danger of the same happening today, despite full-back Jack Robinson’s dismissal ten minutes from time for picking up two yellows.
Karanka’s new side professionally saw out the win – their first on the road this season – to lift them into fifth heading into the international break, whereas for his former charges, it was a big chance missed after an interesting result in the early kick-off.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds had to settle for a point at home to Brentford, but it could have been much worse for the Whites who had found themselves trailing to a second half penalty from the Championship’s top scorer, Neal Maupay.
The strike was Maupay’s tenth in the league this season, but it was cancelled out by Pontus Jansson’s 88th minute equalising header – earning ten man Leeds a point after Luke Ayling was sent off deep into stoppage time.
That result at Elland Road – combined with Boro’s home defeat – opened the door for in-form Sheffield United, and the Blades took full advantage with victory – albeit unconvincing – at home to struggling Hull.
Chris Wilder’s Blades won a tight Yorkshire derby courtesy of David McGoldrick’s spot-kick twenty minutes from time, in an outcome that secured the Bramall Lane side’s fourth straight win and saw them go top of the table for the first time this season, whilst Hull become the division’s new basement club.
Hot on the Blades’ heels are West Bromwich Albion, who came from behind to eventually comfortably dispatch of Reading 4-1 at the Hawthorns – helped in part by two more Dwight Gayle goals.
Joining Forest in the playoffs after an impressive away victory are Sheffield Wednesday, who recovered from losing striker Stephen Fletcher to a first half injury to win 2-1 at Bristol City on Sunday and go sixth, just six points adrift of their Steel City rivals.
Missing out on the top six however are Norwich – whose impressive unbeaten run was halted at home to Stoke – and Derby, who drew 1-1 away to former manager Steve McClaren’s QPR side.
At the bottom, there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel for Ipswich fans, as Paul Hurst earned his first win as manager in a topsy-turvy game at newly-relegated Swansea.
Despite trailing to an early own goal from Janoi Donacien, the Tractor Boys found themselves 2-1 up at half-time after two quick-fire goals – one of which also being an own goal from Swansea’s Mike van der Hoorn.
Manchester City academy graduate Bersant Celina levelled things up late on, but it didn’t last, as Ipswich won an engrossing Liberty Stadium contest through Chelsea loanee Trevoh Chalobah to lift them above Hull.
There were also welcome wins at the bottom for Preston, who thumped Wigan 4-0 at Deepdale, and Millwall, who lift themselves away from danger with a come-from-behind victory at home to managerless Aston Villa.
Elsewhere, Lukas Jutkiewicz scored a hat-trick to make it eight unbeaten for Birmingham as they beat Rotherham 3-1 at St Andrews, and Bradley Dack was on the scoresheet again as Blackburn won the televised Lancashire derby at Bolton 1-0.
It certainly wasn’t the only result that raised a few eyebrows on Saturday, but there was a major upset at Fratton Park as table-topping Portsmouth’s unbeaten record was left in tatters after a superb display from strugglers Gillingham.
The Gills went into the meeting on the back of a ten-game winless streak in all competitions – which even included a 4-0 hammering at Pompey in the Checkatrade Trophy a month ago – but Steve Lovell’s side threw the form book out of the window as Tom Eaves fired them ahead in the first half.
Alex Lacey made it two in stoppage time before the break, but despite it almost seeming inevitable their hosts would respond following the interval, it never came, and Gillingham held out for a morale-boosting victory that lifts them out of the relegation zone.
But despite their defeat, Kenny Jackett’s men remain top, after an even worse afternoon for Peterborough at London Road.
After successive draws, Posh were looking to respond at home to one of their automatic promotion challengers, but were embarrassed by a Barnsley team that ran riot against Steve Evans’ troops.
George Moncur opened the scoring before a Brad Potts double and Jacob Brown stoppage time goal rounded off a perfect afternoon for the visiting Tykes, who won 4-0 to go two points behind their opponents with a game in hand.
Sunderland also closed in on the top two with victory in an ill-tempered game away to Bradford which saw both sides reduced to ten men.
Jack Baldwin was the eventual match winner, scoring just two minutes after Anthony O’Connor had cancelled out Josh Maja’s opener, but the action was far from over as first Max Power was dismissed for the visitors before the Bantams also lost a man in stoppage time after Sean Scannell was sent off.
Bradford remain in the bottom four, but joining Sunderland and Barnsley in the top six are Walsall – who were 1-0 winners away to another relegation-battling side in Bristol Rovers – and Doncaster, who retain their place despite a crushing 4-0 home defeat to Fleetwood, as Accrington’s impressive unbeaten run was brought to an end 1-0 at Shrewsbury.
At the bottom, Wycombe lift themselves out of the drop zone and ahead of opponents Burton with a 2-1 win at Adams Park, Plymouth enjoyed their first victory of the season thanks to Freddie Ladapo’s goal at home to AFC Wimbledon and Oxford now sit bottom as a result after drawing a blank at Southend.
Meanwhile, Luton went to within two points of the playoffs with a 3-2 win at home to Scunthorpe, Amadou Bakayoko scored a late double to help Coventry come from behind to beat Charlton, and Blackpool made it nine league games unbeaten by drawing 2-2 with Rochdale at Bloomfield Road.
Lincoln City returned to winning ways and doubled their lead at the top of SkyBet League Two with a gritty 1-0 home victory over Crewe.
In a largely uninspiring game, it was a substitution from manager Danny Cowley that made the difference as Tom Pett fired an effort in less than sixty seconds after entering the action at Sincil Bank.
The Imps did have a chance to make the points safe late on through a penalty, but Ben Garratt saved from Lee Frecklington to prevent the scoreline from getting worse for the visitors.
It was far from a pretty win, but one that takes Lincoln four points clear as both Exeter and Newport failed to keep the pace.
The Grecians could only draw 2-2 away to Yeovil despite a brace from leading scorer Jayden Stockley, whilst County also picked up a point on their travels in a 1-1 draw at unbeaten Forest Green.
Portsmouth’s defeat in League One on Saturday means Rovers are now the only side yet to lose in the EFL this season, although that may not have been the case had Mickey Demetriou converted his second half penalty for the Exiles.
The Gloucestershire-based side retain their playoff place, as do both MK Dons and Stevenage, who recorded 3-0 and 3-1 home wins against Cheltenham and Colchester – the latter dropping out of the top seven as a result.
Taking the place of the Us are last season’s National League playoff winners Tranmere, who won a bonkers game at the Globe Arena against Morecambe.
After going behind inside a quarter of an hour, Micky Mellon’s men found themselves ahead at the break through Ollie Banks and Harvey Gilmour goals.
It was then 3-1 early in the second half as Jonny Smith got in on the act, but the home side fought back to equalise with ten minutes remaining.
Gilmour had the last laugh however, as the Sheffield United loanee curled in brilliantly to win it with the game in its dying embers.
Tranmere sit seventh, but their opponents Morecambe continue to struggle – sitting just two points clear of the drop zone.
The bottom two remains as you were, as Macclesfield lost 1-0 at home to Notts County – marking a third straight win for Harry Kewell’s Magpies – and Cambridge were beaten 2-0 at Crawley.
Northampton remain winless under new boss Keith Curle, although picked up a respectable point at Swindon in a 1-1 draw, whilst a first minute goal from Wes Thomas helped Grimsby to back-to-back victories with a 2-0 success at home to Port Vale, which lifts them away from the threat of relegation.
And rounding off this edition of EFL Weekly are Carlisle – who won 3-1 away to manager John Sheridan’s former side Oldham – and Mansfield, who are still yet to register a win on their travels after a 95th minute equaliser from Nicky Maynard earned Bury a 2-2 draw at Gigg Lane.
Klopp v Guardiola. Super Sunday. The best two teams in England go head to head. Heavy metal gegenpress meets the super-attacking jugo de posicion. Judgement Day. Sky Sports can push whatever slogans they want in the lead up to this match, it won’t boost their numbers that much, because everyone from around the world will be tuning in to watch the footballing spectacle that is Liverpool v Manchester City on Sunday afternoon.
The Premier League champions and leaders travel to a place where they haven’t won since 2003, to face a Liverpool side who seem to be the only team in the English game who can say they can go toe-to-toe with City and outperform them. Other teams in the league have done it, such as Wolves, but lightning won’t strike twice with those teams, it does with Liverpool. Consistently, Klopp’s men up their game for the visit of Manchester City: the crowd up the ante from the stands, whilst the players seem to start the match at a 100 miles per hour tempo, which seems to only be reserved for the visit of City.
Here, we look at Liverpool v City and try and preview what will be a fascinating tactical battle…
‘Forcing a rivalry’
It’s become clichéd by now, but Liverpool and City fans love to accuse each other of ‘forcing a rivalry’. Whether it be bricking a coach, singing about each others failures at games not involving one another, or simply just getting hit up about the other seemingly more than either team would for Manchester United these days, the fans of the opposing clubs would talk negatively on this and accuse the other of the aforementioned.
Don’t beat around the bush. There is a rivalry.
Liverpool v City is the modern-day Arsenal v United, the grudge match of the decade. People will look back on this period in a decade or so’s time and conclude that this was the era defining fixture.
There may be no Vieira’s or Keane’s on the pitch, but there certainly is talent in abundance. Two revolutionary coaches and a couple of star-studded teams that could dominate the English football landscape for years to come.
The attacking styles that Guardiola and Klopp have brought to England will set a blueprint in the league just as the styles of Wenger and Ferguson in the late 90’s. Just as Arsene Wenger and Sir Alec Ferguson popularised the whole idea of a second, deeper lying striker (Dennis Bergkamp and Eric Cantona), in ten years, a vast portion of the league may use goalkeepers of the Ederson or Alisson breed, or play with the ‘number 6’ style of midfielder that Kevin de Bruyne is.
It may not be a bitter rivalry yet, but the fixture could be looked on as England’s answer to the Clasico, the two big hitters going toe-to-toe to out-tactic one another.
Should Guardiola alter his ways?
In his press conference ahead of this game, City boss Pep Guardiola admitted that to play defensive would be ‘boring’.
Does that mean he can’t alter his tactics to be slightly more pragmatic? Pragmatism isn’t putting 11 men behind the ball, in fact you can be offensive by being defensive. Mourinho used to deploy three men on the half way line when defending a corner, which in turn meant the box was less crowded. Guardiola won’t do this, but the essence rings true.
Playing his usual 4-3-3 plays into the hands of Liverpool, and ‘taking the sting out of it’ via playing simple passes in the first fifteen minutes just doesn’t work. You either need to go all out and try to score a goal first, or sit back (which Guardiola won’t).
The main thing for City and Guardiola has to be to stop the early goal. In the last five or six visits, City have gone one down within the first half an hour. From there, it has been an uphill battle. If they do this, it makes for an entertaining spectacle, where both teams can feasibly win.
Will Liverpool’s front three turn up?
So much has been made of Liverpool’s scintillating start from the widespread media that it has been near impossible to scratch beneath the surface of what has been a relatively poor start for ‘the front three’, for their standards at least.
When talking to Liverpool fans, they will admit the fascinating trio of Mané, Firmino and Salah look like they have never played together before, and look disjointed.
While Sadio Mané started the season in impressive fashion, Salah and Firmino have struggled to find the form of last season.
Despite this, if history repeats itself, Liverpool players should up it for the visit of Guardiola’s City.
Taking my neutral hat off for a second, I am not confident. Less confident than ever. I think that City may get a draw from Anfield, but I can’t see it. Liverpool up their game for the visit of City every year and while I think City will give it a better go than last, I am going with a Liverpool win.
2-1. Salah and Mané to score, with David Silva scoring a consolation for the visitors.
Leeds suffered their first league defeat of the season last weekend as ex-manager Garry Monk led his Birmingham side to a 2-1 victory at Elland Road.
It was far from disastrous, with Leeds playing satisfactory on the day, but it was a loss nevertheless and the question now is how Bielsa’s men respond to this setback.
Often, football is a game of clichés. A lot of the words and phrases commentators, pundits and fans use when talking about football would not make sense in a non-sport setting. One of the most common clichés is ‘bouncebackability’. It may not be in the Oxford Dictionary and would certainly lose you marks if you used that word in a formal piece of writing such as an exam, but it is a word generally accepted in the footballing world to mean: can said team recover from a big loss?
This is often where titles or trophies are won and lost. The mark of all good sides in any league in the world is the attribute to mentally put setbacks aside and move on. Think of Manchester City last season: you could argue that they play better after a loss or draw, going on big runs.
If Leeds are serious about promotion, this is a crucial thing they must do. Having the talent on the pitch is one thing, but it doesn’t win you titles or promotions. Team spirit, mental grit, bouncebackability – the mental aspect is just as vital as the talented pool of players at Bielsa’s disposal.
Next up for Leeds is a tough trip to Sheffield on Friday night where they will face Jos Luhukay’s Sheffield Wednesday side who will be well up for the Yorkshire derby on the back of a win at Villa Park last time out. Should Leeds win, it will send a serious message to the rest of the division that they are true candidates for promotion. On the other hand, a loss would send out signals that they can be broken and do have weaknesses.