Joleon Lescott column: Visitors must stand United or get the Blues

Joleon Lescott
LiveScore
26/11/202110:10
Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United face a tough trip to league leaders Chelsea on Sunday
Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United face a tough trip to league leaders Chelsea on Sunday

I’m sure a trip to Premier League leaders Chelsea is the last game Manchester United would’ve wanted this weekend.

Although they dug out an important win against Villarreal in midweek, they will face a side on a different level on Sunday afternoon — and I fear for them.

While caretaker boss Michael Carrick will be realistic about the task in hand, I’m sure he’ll be relishing the opportunity to impress.

Michael was one of the most intelligent players of his generation on the pitch and is an extremely articulate guy off the field.

Even though he was part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s regime, he won’t have agreed with everything that went on and these games give him a chance to try and put his own stamp on things.

We saw Donny van de Beek, Alex Telles and Jadon Sancho all in from the start on Tuesday and that is a perfect example of how a change of manager can impact individuals very differently.

Ole was clearly well liked as a person, so it’s not a case of being glad to see the back of him — but those players who weren’t getting opportunities will now have an extra spring in their step.

It’s a clean slate for everyone and that could also mean some of the regulars suddenly find their position under threat.

United’s defence has caused them a lot of issues and the clean sheet in the Champions League was only their third in all competitions this term.

When Thomas Tuchel came into Chelsea halfway through last season, we saw him prioritise defensive solidity — and he did so spectacularly.

The difference there was he had the personnel in his ranks to change things up. United simply don’t have the same depth of quality.

Whatever happens with the next appointment, the target for the Red Devils this season must be fourth place.

The three title contenders are already too far gone — and there are a few other sides who will be eyeing that final Champions League spot.

If they do manage to finish best of the rest, it will be a job well done.

Brilliant Blues

Thomas Tuchel (centre) will hope to see Chelsea maintain top spot in the Premier League this weekend
Thomas Tuchel (centre) will hope to see Chelsea maintain top spot in the Premier League this weekend

It’s great to finally be able to put the spotlight on Chelsea because I’ve been so impressed with them this season.

For me, they are the team who look the most comfortable in the different aspects of a game.

Yes, they can keep possession and dominate teams. But they can also defend on the edge of their box and not look like conceding. They can even play a counter-attacking style when needed.

Manchester City are probably more visually impressive when controlling a match — but I don’t think they’re as well equipped without the ball as Tuchel’s men.

That loss to City back in September seemed to be a bit of a wake-up call for Chelsea. Since then, they have reset and bounced back better than ever.

When you have a world-class manager and combine that with buy-in from the players, it’s a recipe for success and the Blues are getting better and better every week.

The title race is going to be decided by fine margins and I do worry Liverpool could lose a little bit of ground when Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane head to the Africa Cup of Nations.

If it’s to end up between Chelsea and City, I expect it to go right to the wire — but other competitions could be the deciding factor.

Competing on multiple fronts is hard. And while the managers will never admit to prioritising Europe over the league or vice versa, it definitely does go on.

If we get to the business end of the campaign and only one of the pair is left in the Champions League, that could be enough to tip the balance in the other team’s favour.

In the meantime, expect all three contenders to keep powering on.

Out of Toon

Callum Wilson and his Newcastle team-mates are desperate to turn their fortunes around
Callum Wilson and his Newcastle team-mates are desperate to turn their fortunes around

Norwich’s win last weekend saw Newcastle slip to the bottom of the Premier League — and I’m sure the new owners on Tyneside are getting a little hot under the collar.

Right now, my head tells me the Magpies will stay up purely because of who they can go and bring in during January.

However, it is vital they get their recruitment right.

Supporters often call for attacking reinforcements in a struggling team but I think strengthening at the back is usually the way to go.

In Newcastle’s situation, they already have the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson and Joe Willock, who are proven Premier League goalscorers.

What would really benefit them is an experienced defender or two to give those attacking players a solid base to work off.

If I could give the club’s new owners one piece of advice for the journey ahead, it would be to bring experience into the club at every level.

Whether it’s the playing staff, the coaches or even at a director level, it’s important you have people who can fall back on knowledge they’ve learnt in previous roles.

You can’t underestimate the value of having people who have been there and done it — they are vital in laying the long-term foundations for a successful project.

Joleon Lescott’s Premier League Matchday 13 predictions

Arsenal vs Newcastle (Saturday, 12.30pm, BT Sport)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal will look to get back to winning ways against Newcaslte
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal will look to get back to winning ways against Newcaslte

I see the Gunners winning this one quite comfortably. Their defence can still improve, as we saw last weekend, but I think they’ll have too much for Newcastle.

Prediction: Home win

Liverpool vs Southampton (Saturday, 3pm)

I can only see a home win. Southampton will make it an attractive watch I’m sure but it’s hard to foresee Liverpool dropping points, especially at Anfield.

Prediction: Home win

Norwich vs Wolves (Saturday, 3pm)

Wolves are flying but are still going under the radar a bit, which I like. Norwich got a huge win for Dean Smith last weekend but I think the visitors will outclass them.

Prediction: Away win

Crystal Palace vs Aston Villa (Saturday, 3pm)

Old foes Patrick Vieira (left) and Steven Gerrard (right) meet as managers for the first time at Selhurst Park
Old foes Patrick Vieira (left) and Steven Gerrard (right) meet as managers for the first time at Selhurst Park

What a dugout this is with Patrick Vieira and Steven Gerrard locking horns! I’m going to have to say Palace for this one. I think that extra experience in how they want to play could be crucial.

Prediction: Home win

Brighton vs Leeds (Saturday, 5.30pm, Sky Sports)

Once again, a good Leeds performance ended in them picking up no points at Tottenham. It’s a worrying trend. This game should suit both teams and I’ll go for a draw.

Prediction: Draw

Brentford vs Everton (Sunday, 2pm, Sky Sports)

Both teams really need a win. My gut feeling says Everton find a way but I’m not saying that with any confidence. Rafa Benitez could certainly do with a result.

Prediction: Away win

Leicester vs Watford (Sunday, 2pm)

Watford have surprised me recently — that Claudio Ranieiri appointment could prove a masterstroke. I’m waiting for Leicester to click into gear and I’ll plump for a home win.

Prediction: Home win

Manchester City vs West Ham (Sunday, 2pm)

West Ham’s best chance of getting something from this game is if it gets stretched. Declan Rice and Michail Antonio can cause anyone problems but I expect City to win quite comfortably.

Prediction: Home win

Burnley vs Tottenham (Sunday, 2pm)

Antonio Conte could be set for another tough afternoon when Tottenham visit Burnley
Antonio Conte could be set for another tough afternoon when Tottenham visit Burnley

This is a tough ask for Tottenham. It’s difficult to play how Antonio Conte would like to at Burnley because they will lower the tempo and make life difficult. A slip-up could be on the cards!

Prediction: Home win

Chelsea vs Manchester United (Sunday, 4.30pm, Sky Sports)

I’ll be surprised if Chelsea don’t win this game. It’s a fresh start for United and their players will be desperate to make a mark but I think the Blues have too much quality.

Prediction: Home win

Joleon Lescott was speaking to LiveScore's Matthew Hill

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