Big Midweek: Atalanta v Man Utd, Spurs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Barca

What should we expect from Manchester United? Christ knows. But at least we can be sure of a response from Tottenham now Nuno is gone. Can’t we?


Game to watch – Atalanta v Manchester United
Okay, so that was much better. But with this United side, you can never be sure what comes next.

At least Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t have to ponder for too long over his selection for the trip to Bergamo to face the Italians. Paul Pogba is available amid his domestic ban but Solskjaer will surely sit the France star’s arse on the bench next to the shell of Donny van de Beek.

Because United’s system worked against Spurs. Going to three at the back enabled Solskjaer to firm up while also fielding Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo as a front two. Given the success of that switch, combined with how easily they were picked off by an under-strength Atalanta team a fortnight ago, there is absolutely no reason for Solskjaer to overthink this one.

Of course, Solskjaer remains under huge pressure. Any reversion in performance level will intensify the clamour for United to pull the trigger once again, but a victory on their first visit to Atalanta will likely give United a five-point qualifying cushion in Group F with six points left to claim. Another win, which is just as likely as not with this side, and Solskjaer can put the Champions League to the back of his mind in plenty of time for the derby on Saturday, which will again dictate the ever-changing mood for the coming weeks at Old Trafford.


Team to watch – Tottenham
Spurs host Vitesse on Thursday night in need of a positive result to turn around their ailing Europa Conference campaign and Spurs host Vitesse with a new manager in Antonio Conte.

That particular Europa Conference clash g0 might not bother many at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but the atmosphere around the club is in dire need of a reset. There was open dissent while Spurs were being humbled by Manchester United on Saturday and though Nuno’s exit alone will help to lift that mood, it will soon turn toxic once more if the Spurs players offer the impression that they feel absolved in any way by the manager’s sacking.

It’s been two hours and 17 minutes since Tottenham have had a shot on target. The manager has carried the can but the players must also look at themselves and their contributions. But in the last couple of years, introspection at Spurs has been in short supply.

Against Vitesse a fortnight ago, Nuno left out his first XI and Spurs were promptly beaten to leave them third in their group. Thursday is not the time to be dishing out undeserved breathers to players, some of whom appear to have been phoning it in. Presumably the watching eye of a new manager will be enough to motivate this rabble for a Europa Conference game, even if atonement ought to have done the trick.


F365 Says: Costly Conte coup might be Spurs’ only way out of this mess


Manager to watch – Pep Guardiola
A week or so ago, Manchester City didn’t need a centre-forward. Then they went a couple of games without scoring and suddenly they do.

Prior to being shut out by West Ham and Crystal Palace, City turned in perhaps their best two attacking performances of the season against Club Brugge and Brighton. With nine goals scored and Phil Foden thriving as a false 9, all was well.

But Foden featured as one of three City players in the worst Premier League XI of the weekend after Palace piled on their Carabao Cup misery by beating Guardiola’s side at the Etihad on Saturday.

City have racked up 37 goals in 15 games this season – but 27 of them came in five matches in which the champions scored fives and sixes. Another five opponents have kept their sheets clean.

Even in those five scoreless games, City have averaged an xG 1.5 which suggests the finishing is more of an issue than any inability to create chances. Against Brugge at the Etihad, City will doubtless create opportunities, but Guardiola has to find a way of making his players more clinical. The other problem would have been easier to solve.


Player to watch – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Liverpool flew out of the blocks against Brighton, much like they have in the Champions League. Surely they won’t make the same mistake…

The Reds have been perfect so far, winning three from three, enabling them to secure qualification for the next phase with victory over Atletico on Wednesday. To do that, they will need a big improvement in performance and mentality on what they offered while allowing Brighton to come back from the dead on Halloween weekend.

Many of Liverpool’s problems stemmed from midfield. Once Naby Keita was subbed again early on with what looked to be a hamstring injury, the Reds lacked any kind of cohesion in their engine room. Which is hardly surprising as Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones is a long way from the midfield three Jurgen Klopp would be happiest choosing.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is perhaps furthest down the pecking order but the former England midfielder now has a chance – probably his last chance – to stake a claim for more regular involvement.

Simply getting minutes under his belt represents progress, with 90 coming at Preston in the Carabao Cup last week before 70 minutes against Brighton was crowned with an assist for Sadio Mane soon after he came on.

But then it all went very wrong for Liverpool. Brighton cut through the hosts with relative ease, fighting back for a deserved point.

With Keita joining Thiago, Fabinho, James Milner and Harvey Elliot on the sidelines, and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fitness as close to match-ready as he has been for months, this is a chance he simply must seize.


European game to watch – Dynamo Kiev v Barcelona
Managerless Barca are already in full-blown crisis mode but defeat in Ukraine on Tuesday night would leave them bottom of their Champions League group with two games left to play.

Only a slender victory over this week’s hosts last time out got them on the board after miserable defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica. Barca could leapfrog the Portuguese club into second with an away win in Kiev and anything but a Benfica triumph in Bavaria. But Barca can’t be relied on for anything these days.

They will be without their match-winner from the previous meeting with Gerard Pique following Sergio Aguero off during Saturday’s draw with Alaves. So Barca’s centre-back partnership could consist of Eric Garcia and Clement Lenglet, two players yet to convince anyone of their Barca credentials.

Barcelona interim coach Sergi Barjuan has tried to play it cool but a defeat that would leave Barca staring at a first season without Champions League knockout football would be a disaster. Another one.


EFL game to watch – Barnsley v Derby
There’s a full Championship programme over Tuesday and Wednesday, though not much to really grab you by the balls and make you forget the Champions League. Certainly not on Tuesday when Middlesbrough’s trip to Luton – 10th versus 11th – is being screened on Sky Sports Main Event. Even Boro and Luton fans are tempted to watch Holby City instead.

At least on Wednesday you have the option of the Championship’s two bottom teams facing each other. Derby go to Barnsley with the chance to lift themselves off the foot of the table, despite the managerless Tykes having had a 12-point head-start.

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