City out to make it 11 in a row
London — It would appear to be difficult for any team to find a more daunting examination in European football at present than a visit to the Etihad Stadium, where Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have come into full bloom.
City’s kaleidoscopic movement and rare skill executed at breakneck speed have made his latest creation a familiar delight to behold but a nightmare to play against as Burnley may become the latest Premier League side to discover this weekend.
City’s 7-2 demolition of Stoke City last Saturday to move them two points clear of neighbours Manchester United was followed by Guardiola’s delight at seeing off "one of Europe’s best teams" Napoli in the Champions League in midweek.
That was City’s 10th successive win in all competitions and now to complete their perfect week at the Etihad on Saturday, they plan to add to the 22 goals scored there in six matches in all competitions this term.
Burnley themselves have progressed admirably under manager Sean Dyche, having gone six league matches unbeaten, but he recognises that visiting a stadium where City have won their past three league games by five-goal margins is the acid test.
Guardiola was lavish with praise for his side’s brilliance last weekend as his old rival Jose Mourinho, in contrast, suffered some equally familiar criticism for his safety-first approach in Manchester United’s goalless draw at Liverpool. Not that Mourinho ever appears to worry about such barbs but on Saturday he will expect his men to get back to being flat-track bullies against a struggling Huddersfield Town, who are without a win in six matches.
Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool meet at Wembley on Sunday, with both sides buoyed by superb away-days in the Champions League — Spurs earned a draw at champions Real Madrid, while the Reds put seven past Maribor.
There feels a lot riding on the match, with Spurs yet to convince their fans that they are over their Wembley wobbles, while Jürgen Klopp knows that his eighth-placed Liverpool cannot afford to drift further behind in the title race.
Neither can champions Chelsea, nine points adrift of City, as they seek to bring Watford down to earth after the unfashionable Hornets surged into the top four last weekend with a win over Arsenal. Stung by their loss to rock-bottom Crystal Palace, Chelsea will be grateful for the return of their striking ace, Alvaro Morata.
Watford, whose striker Troy Deeney had taken delight in pointing out how Arsenal seemed to lack fight, can expect Chelsea to be more combative on Saturday, especially as they are smarting at losing consecutive games for only the second time under Antonio Conte.
Arsenal, also nine behind City, need to rebound quickly at Everton, who are in even more urgent need of a win — as manager Ronald Koeman, languishing in 16th, is now having to assert warily: "Until now it’s full, total support from the board."
Palace will hope to continue their baby steps at Newcastle United, who could be under new ownership by Christmas if Mike Ashley can find a buyer.
It is a time of flux at Leicester City, too. They are managerless for the visit to Swansea City with Craig Shakespeare’s dismissal meaning assistant Michael Appleton takes charge of the side temporarily.