The False 9 - Week 11

Image: Paul Thomas/Getty Images

Image: Paul Thomas/Getty Images

Who would’ve thought we are already a quarter of the way through the premier league season. Many topics have already caught the eye of football lovers around the world, including United’s ‘Post Fergie Hangover’, the deadly combination of Suarez and Sturridge and Arsenal’s stubborn resistance that has pundits comparing the current breed to that of the the 03/04 invincible side.

One issue that has come to the fore over the last month is the form of Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. Questions are beginning to be asked of whether Steven Gerrard (a.k.a Mr Liverpool) is past his prime and if he can still the midfield maestro that Liverpool need to sustain a title challenge or at least grace the European stage once again. I know some Reds fans will disagree, but with a career average of a goal every 4 games, Stevie G’s field play has gone from a box to box powerhouse to a now reserved holding midfielder, attempting to dictate the tempo of the game. Is this really what the Reds want from him? This once again brings up the manager's conundrum of when is the right time to start thinking about the future without disrespecting a club legend. The same happened to the likes of Paul Scholes. It is a hard question to solve, with no real right answer. Liverpool will be hoping that Gerrard displays some of the form that Frank Lampard showed when the critics were on his back about being too old. He now has an extended one year contract at Chelsea. Will Gerrard be able to do the same? Will we see some of the vintage Gerrard that graced Anfield over the last decade? Performances like his in Istanbul in 2006 have just been few and far between recently. With young kids knocking at the door to play on the hallowed grounds of Anfield, the time could be running out for the Reds legend.

On that note here are a couple of previews for the upcoming weekend matches and my overall predictions for Gameweek 11 of the EPL.

Liverpool vs Fulham

This is a significant game for both of these clubs for differing reasons. Going into the last Gameweek Liverpool were seen as potential title contenders but after a lacklustre away display against Arsenal, the critics are back out in force. The Reds lacked any conviction in the midfield and were thoroughly dominated by a hungrier Arsenal outfit, who strangled the supply to their inform strikers.  Although Phillippe Coutinho had a quiet game coming back from injury, he could be the key to Liverpool getting back the attacking verve they lacked last week. In Suarez and Sturridge they have a stunning strike partnership, but the problem is getting the ball to these stars. This is where young Coutinho could prove to be the critical factor, with the help of the never-ending engine which is Jordan Henderson. Fulham would love to have the problems that Liverpool have at the moment, however they are in a more dire situation sitting 2 points outside the relegation zone.  They have been surviving just above the line recently with only 2 wins in 9 games and the pressure is starting to rapidly increase on Dutch manager Martin Jol. After managing stints with Spurs, Hamburg and Ajax (where he won the Dutch Cup), Jol has been at Fulham since mid 2011 and has seen Fulham secure a comfortable mid table finish in his first year in charge. However the fans are starting to want a little bit more and their start to the season has not helped. With Dimitar Berbatov only netting once in 10 games and the team having only won 1 away game all year, this game could be another tough afternoon for the Lilywhites. The question is, with Jol’s job on the line, can Fulham produce some of the rasping football once again that saw them upset Liverpool last year?

The Deciding Factor:

With the strike power that Liverpool has at its disposal and the return of Coutinho to the lineup, I can see a much improved performance from the reds. If there is to be a loss for Fulham, it could spell the end of Martin Jol’s tenure at the place where, ironically, you never walk alone.

My Prediction:

Liverpool 3-1 with Suarez and Sturridge returning to goal scoring form.

Man Utd vs Arsenal:

It has been a positive week for both of these clubs, with resounding wins that have put both clubs back on track in the EPL. Arsenal were coming off losses in there two biggest games, but a convincing home win against a dangerous Liverpool side has given the club the boost it needed as the atmosphere was threatening to turn dark. Big questions remain over the Gunner’s strike power as at any moment an injury to leading front-man, Olivier Giroud, could leave them seriously exposed with both Theo Walcott and Lucas Podolski still on the mend and no one wanting Danish ‘workhorse’ Nickolas Bendtner on the team sheet (please Arsene don’t put us Gooner fans through the pain). However, with Arsenal’s defence starting to look more solid with a consistent back 4 keeping clean sheets in their last 2 EPL games and a midfield which is fast becoming the envy of the league through the Welsh magic and German prowess of both Ramsey and Ozil respectively, Arsenal now have a mindset that they can now not just challenge, but beat the top teams in the country.

Man United finally seem like they are starting to emerge from the mid table clutter and putting some notable performances together. A strong away effort against Fulham has seen the Red Devils collect 10 points from a possible 12 since the embarrassing home defeat to West Brom in late September. In Rooney, Van Persie and young gun Januzaj, United may have discovered a triple threat that can carry a team reminiscent of the James, Wade and Bosh trio for the reigning NBA champs, the Miami Heat. Their defence seems to still have an inconsistent feel to it with Smalling, Vidic and Ferdinand creating nervous moments for all supporters, however if the likes of Phil Jones and Jonny Evans can keep providing more steel and desire in the heart of the defence, it will go a long way to helping the Red Devils reassert themselves as title contenders.

The Deciding Factor:

With greater quality and talent throughout the midfield, Arsenal should look to dominate possession and starve the United strikers of decent ball, like they did against Liverpool. However with United at home and seemingly on the way up the delicately poised EPL ladder, this match could turn into one where a lot of the action will be seen between the two boxes and not in the 18 yard box. The team with the more clinical finishing could snatch the 3 points here heading into the international break.

My Prediction:

1-1 Draw, with Arsenal  leaving Old Trafford the happier of the sides.

Further Predictions:

Aston Villa vs Cardiff City – Aston Villa

Chelsea vs West Brom – Chelsea

Crystal Palace vs Everton – Draw

Southampton vs Hull City – Southampton

Norwich vs West Ham – Draw

Tottenham vs Newcastle – Draw

Sunderland vs Man City – Man City

Swansea vs Stoke City – Swansea