A look ahead – our next three fixtures
Author: Emily Pulham. Published: 30 October 2020 at 5:16pm
Written by: Jonathan Lee
So, after six games, and widespread pre-season fears of only picking up a point or three against Newcastle (at best), we find ourselves on eight points and unbeaten in four games, which has to be viewed positively.
However, the league season as we know is a marathon and not a sprint, and observers generally tell you to look at the league table after 9-12 matches to get a feel of how the season may unwind – in that respect our next three league games against Liverpool, Fulham and Sheff Utd will be interesting. After that we have another potentially tough set of games against high flying Leeds and Aston Villa, with Man Utd thrown in for good measure, they say there are no easy games in the Prem and it’s true. But first up we need to navigate the next three matches.
Liverpool away – perhaps a tad more even this year without the Anfield masses behind them, although that said we were damn unlucky to come away with nothing last season in one of our best displays away from London; additionally we are being told that the current Champions are in something of a dilemma with injuries, particularly at centre half and you quietly hope that too may work in our favour. However, despite their recent 7-2 drubbing by Villa, make no mistake that this Liverpool team, at home, are nobody’s fools and have their eyes set on equalling their record run of 63 consecutive games unbeaten at Anfield (that unbelievably includes the last three seasons) previously set between 1978 and 1981. I think many of us would snap your hand off if you offered us another point against one of the big boys of the division, and many might view it as a free hit with nobody expecting anything other than a home win – but make no mistake this doesn’t appear to currently be the steamrolling team of last season who flattened all who came into its path, and the loss of Van Dijk and a couple of other defensive options is certainly a major blow, but with the wing backs they have and their front three our defensive shape will need to be at its very best.
Fulham home – arguably the one stand out team that has looked a little short on quality so far this season, propping up the table on one point, and with not the greatest away record at our place – which is concerning on a number of levels for those of you who have followed WHU for a number of years. How often in the past have we dug deep to get a great result (eg Spurs, Man City) only to slip up against more beatable opposition. This must be a game in which we target three points (draws against decent opposition are fine but wins against those around or below you are more important) and potentially adopt a slightly different set up, as Fulham will sit back and look to break on the counter through Mitrovic and Lookman, with Cairney also posing a threat from midfield – again, with no crowd, the lack of a London derby atmosphere may play its part, and patience will need to be shown to break down a Fulham team proudly led by Scott Parker.
Sheff United away – another side who have had a poor opening to the season with five defeats from six and only a place above Fulham in 19th; by the time they face us life may not be much better as they face Man City and Chelsea, and we could be up against a wounded animal which is always dangerous. Last season we should have come away with something but only a calamity between Martin and Balbuena, and a harsh late goal ruled out for handball against Rice, denied us at least a point – the south Yorkshire side seem to be suffering from second season syndrome having had such an impressive debut last time out, but I don’t think many of us will shed a tear if they struggle this season, and we have to play on their fragility when we travel up there; at home they will have a go and our three at the back, wing back set up may come into its own again. Moyes and his team will be targeting at least a point from this one, more probably three, but as ever it will have to be earned through hard work from back to front.
Against the backdrop of these three games are some key player questions of our own which may impact our performance – if Antonio is indeed out for a spell will Haller be entrusted to the front man role or will Moyes prefer Yarmo, or Bowen, to play the striker role; how long can Benrahma be kept in the shadows awaiting his chance to shine, we have seen how Bowen was very gradually introduced to the team at the start of the year and this may end up being a similar process; can Balbuena maintain his recent good form as part of that back three or is Diop due a place back in the side now his recovery is complete; and can Cresswell and Arthur maintain their form down our left side.
After Sheffield United we will have completed 9 games, still being on 8 points at that stage would be disappointing in truth given our decent start, but 12 (which really should be our minimum target) or higher would have to be seen as a good return and hopefully set us up for a decent season.